INDIANAPOLIS — Corey Clement knows the history of the Wisconsin Badgers’ football program when it comes to producing top NFL-caliber running backs.
The Badgers senior running back points toward the program’s two most recent success stories – Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon III and Super Bowl champion James White – as further proof of what’s been brewing in Madison for the last 25 years.
Clement played alongside both backs during his four years with the Badgers and now looks to blaze his own trail as he prepares for the start of his NFL career.
“It means a lot, especially with two years former Badgers are having as far as James White and Melvin Gordon,” said Clement at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday. “You want to just keep that positive vibe going coming from the Wisconsin Badgers. … I hope to create my own legacy once I get the call.”
The Badgers’ running back pipeline again is running through Indianapolis this week with Clement and Dare Ogunbowale representing the program’s newest draft prospects.
Clement rushed for 3,092 yards and 36 touchdowns on 576 carries in 43 games (15 starts), finishing with the eighth-best rushing average in program history (5.37 yards per attempt) and ninth all-time in total touchdowns (38).
Ogunbowale, a Milwaukee native, started his career at UW as a walk-on defensive back before converting to running back two weeks into the 2014 season.
He rushed for 1,518 yards and 13 touchdowns on 319 carries over 49 games with 10 starts. Ogunbowale also added another 60 receptions for 507 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s awesome having someone I’m really close to like that and getting to hang out with him while we’re down here,” said Ogunbowale of Clement. “I’m very proud of him and how he’s done throughout his college career and now being able to compete here at the combine.”
The Packers haven’t drafted a running back out of Wisconsin since taking Gary Ellerson in the seventh round in 1985, but they could be in the market with Ty Montgomery currently the only ball-carrier under contract.
Clement said he’d be excited about any opportunity, but also made it clear he has no issue playing in the Wisconsin winter if the Packers come calling.
“Anybody who gives me an opportunity, that’s going to be great,” Clement said. “I played in the harsh elements, the cold weather, the snow, so it really wouldn’t affect me after being in Wisconsin for four years. Like I said, just keeping that fan base going, staying in Wisconsin and I’m pretty sure Badgers would love to see that.”
2. Javarius Leamon played with both Joe Thomases.
Not every college athlete gets to play on the same team as both a father and a son, but Leamon had that unique opportunity during his time at South Carolina State.
The 6-foot-7, 332-pound offensive tackle and 2017 NFL Draft prospect played his first two seasons with current Packers linebacker Joe Thomas Jr. before suiting up this past season with his father, Joe Sr., a 55-year-old running back.
Joe Sr. practiced with the football team for the past few years after enrolling in the school following Joe Jr.’s graduation. He’s believed to be the oldest Division I football player in NCAA history after carrying the ball four times in the Bulldogs’ 32-0 win over Savannah State last November.
“I wasn’t in the game, but he used to practice with us,” Leamon said. “It was Senior Day. We had a nice little crowd and he got in.”
Thomas Jr. is one of the most decorated players in South Carolina State history. The third-year pro linebacker recorded 271 tackles (188 solo) in college with 11½ sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in 41 games with 30 starts.
An undrafted free agent in 2014, Thomas had 70 tackles, five deflections and an interception in 16 games with seven starts last season with Green Bay. He also led all Packers linebackers with 632 defensive snaps.
“He was the real deal, man,” Leamon said. “You see him on TV and everything now, but he’s been doing all that before.”
3. Dan Feeney received combine tips from Jason Spriggs
Packers tackle Jason Spriggs traded texts with Dan Feeney over the past few weeks to help his former Indiana teammate prepare for this week’s combine.
The two linemen started two seasons together on the Hoosiers’ offensive line before the Packers drafted Spriggs in the second round of last year’s draft.
Understanding how daunting this week can be, Spriggs wanted to make sure his former teammate was ready for it.
“I’ve been texting him a whole lot,” said Feeney, who served as a team captain with Spriggs in 2015. “I took a lot from Jason Spriggs. Him being here (before), he’s been giving me tips and tricks to kind of stay positive through this whole process and be consistent, and be who you are.”
4. The Vikings aren’t closing the door on Adrian Peterson returning in 2017.
Minnesota announced this week it will not be exercising Adrian Peterson’s contract option for 2017, making the former NFL MVP running back a free agent for the first time in his career.
However, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he isn’t ruling out the possibility of Peterson returning for an 11th season with Minnesota, either.
“Adrian is a guy who has not ever been a free agent, so I think this is a good chance for him to go out and test the market and see what his value is,” Zimmer said. “I think he understands there’s also a big benefit to finishing out your career with one team. I’ve been around a lot of players who have done both – finished their career with one team and also gone onto another team for a year or two.”
Zimmer’s comments echo those of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who told reporters in Indianapolis on Wednesday that the team is open to the 31-year-old running back returning.
Peterson rushed 31 times for 50 yards before injuring his knee in the Vikings’ Week 2 matchup with the Packers, which landed him on injured reserve with a designation to return.
Minnesota activated him in Week 15 against Indianapolis. He rushed six times for 22 yards with a fumble before exiting with a knee injury.
5. Ryan Ramczyk took an interesting road to the combine.
One of the top offensive line prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft was playing Division III football only three years ago.
Ryan Ramczyk, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound redshirt junior tackle out of Wisconsin, was a highly touted high-school recruit but initially turned down Division I offers to go to technical college instead.
He returned to football a year later when he decided to play for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a D-III program in his hometown.
A two-year starter at left tackle, Ramczyk transferred to Madison when Paul Chryst was hired as the Badgers’ new football coach. After sitting out the 2015 season, Ramczyk emerged as the Badgers’ starting left tackle in 2016.
“Starting out at a Division III school, it’s always my goal to compete and be the best I can possibly be,” Ramczyk said. “So transferring up to Division I, it’s always been my mindset to push myself to be that best guy and it kind of became a reality I could get to the NFL over the course of two years at Madison.”
Ramczyk, who is one of six former Badgers invited to the combine, is only participating in the bench press this week due to hip surgery.
He expects to be ready for training camp.