MADISON — Three years ago Andy Crooks
was being recruited by the University of Wisconsin
football program to play tight end or H-back.
Crooks, then a junior at Wausau (Wis.) East High School, had actually never played tight end before. By the time signing day 2004 rolled around, however, Crooks' projected position had changed to linebacker.
He wound up starting five games at the middle, or "mike", linebacker spot his true freshman year.
Last season was a markedly different story for Crooks, who found himself buried at mike behind Mark Zalewski and Josh Neal.
"Last year was very frustrating because I did play a lot my freshman year and coming off of that to not really playing at all last year, I was down at times but it's great to me right now, basically having a fresh start and a good chance to get on the field again," Crooks said. "It just feels real good."
That fresh start is coming at tight end, a position that Crooks said he might have taken a couple of snaps at per game his senior year at Wausau East. Crooks was a linebacker and part-time fullback that year, when he was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel state player of the year.
"I had never played tight end prior to being recruited as one but I was recruited as one and now I am one," Crooks said. "It's kind of funny, I think."
Crooks certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-3, 264 pounds, he is the biggest tight end at Wisconsin, having added about 15 pounds since his days at linebacker came to a close. But he hopes to trim down to about 260 by the start of fall training camp.
Through six spring practices, Crooks has displayed enough athleticism to work his way open without too much trouble, and he has dependable hands. With his size he should develop into a solid blocker.
Oddly enough, an argument can be made that Crooks has the most experience of any of UW's tight ends. Football experience that is. Crooks' five career starts dwarfs the combined zero of every other Badger tight end combined.
"I can definitely draw from the game speed and the experience, getting in there and not being as nervous and stuff like that, I think that will carry over," Crooks said.
Crooks can also draw support from tight ends Sean Lewis and Dave Peck, two more parts of the 2004 recruiting class that brought Crooks to Wisconsin.
"I'm real good friends with Sean and Dave and if I need any help, I can just knock on their door and be like, ‘Hey, on this play, this sort of thing, what do I do?'" said Crooks, who lives in the same apartment building as Lewis and Peck. "That's a big help to me."
Lewis, Crooks and Travis Beckum have formed UW's top triumvirate in spring ball thus far, with Peck appearing to be No. 4. The position is more or less a blank slate as the Badgers work to replace Owen Daniels, Jason Pociask and Joel Nellis.
"There's no set depth or anything like that," Crooks said. "Whoever does the best during spring is going to have that spot for the fall. So really, I'm just trying to do the best I can and improve at blocking and stuff like that during the spring so I can set myself up to do well for the fall."