The Wisconsin Badgers lost a huge weapon at the tight end position this past season when Sam Arneson finished out his senior year. Luckily for the Badgers, the heir apparent is ready and waiting for his chance to shine. 2015 will be a big year for Troy Fumagalli.
Standing at 6-5, 246 pounds, Fumagalli is — if you believe it — even bigger than Arneson, who finished his career with the Badgers grabbing 39 receptions for 463 yards and eight scores. Arneson made his living catching short passes over the middle (averaged 11.9 yards per reception) and became Joel Stave‘s safety blanket last season.
There’s no reason to think Fumagalli can’t step into that role.
The redshirt sophomore from Naperville, Illinois, played in all 14 games for the Badgers last season, recording 14 catches in a backup role. He had a catch in every game of the year except the regular season opener against LSU and the regular season finale against Minnesota, and had a pair of catches in both the Big ten Championship and the Outback Bowl.
No catch on the season was bigger than a 14-yard reception in overtime of the Outback Bowl, a catch that set up the go-ahead and eventual game-winning field goal against Auburn.
It’s a simple play — a 10 yard in route — but it’s a route the Badgers ran Arneson on over and over again throughout his time at Wisconsin. Fumagalli should slide right into that role.
And it’s a role that is important to the Badgers, as evidenced by the team’s reliance on Arneson last year. Having a big-bodied tight end is exactly what a QB like Stave needs, and Fumagalli’s sure-handedness will be key for the Badgers.
Questions arise about Fumagalli’s blocking, an aspect of the game that isn’t on par with his catching abilities, but his abilities as a receiver should outweigh the need for a blocking tight end, especially when other players are available to fill the role.
Wisconsin has depth at the tight end position, and Fumagalli won’t be simply handed playing time. Fifth year senior Austin Traylor — who is a much better blocker than Fumagalli — will get his reps, and redshirt sophomore T.J. Watt will likely see the field as well. Add to the group true freshman Kyle Penniston and redshirt junior Eric Steffes, and the Badgers have plenty of options at the tight end position.
While options abound at tight end, expect Fumagalli to work his way to the top of the pecking order and be one of the Badgers leading receivers this season.
That Fumagalli is where he is now — set to be a starter for a Division I football team, is a pretty amazing story in its own right. As profiled by Jason Galloway of Madison.com, Fumagalli was born with Amniotic Banding Syndrome, a congenital disorder that forced doctors to amputate his left index finger shortly after he was born.
Regardless of the number of fingers he has, Fumagalli has shown he is more than capable of getting the job done, and will likely be a major contributor for Wisconsin this season.
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