Wisconsin will be getting at least two of its seniors back for another season.
Running back Chez Mellusi and cornerback Alexander Smith each said Monday they would be using the free year the NCAA gave players for the COVID-impacted 2020 season and return to Madison.
Mellusi has had to deal with season-impacting injuries the last two years since transferring in from Clemson. He suffered a torn ACL against Rutgers in 2021 and missed the final four games of the season. Mellusi then missed four games this year after breaking his forearm against Northwestern in early October. He returned last week against Nebraska and ran for a team-high 98 yards.
“I think it would be in my best interest for my future,” Mellusi said. “I want to play in the NFL. I don’t think it would be in my best interest to leave after missing four games in a season. I think I could leave but I don’t want to. I think I still have a lot left on the table here.”
Mellusi admitted that he made his decision pretty quickly after having surgery to fix his arm. The conversations that led to the decision included talks with interim coach Jim Leonhard and his family.
“They knew as soon as I got hurt and when I knew I was gonna miss some extended time, I sat down with my family and just decided that it’d be in my best interest to come back,” said Mellusi, who did not redshirt and will be playing a fifth season. “I’m young, I just turned 21. I think that it would just make sense for me to come back.”
Smith was in a similar situation as Mellusi this season. He missed the entirety of fall camp and the first five games of the season with a hamstring injury. The California native started to work himself back into the lineup in the seventh game of the year at Michigan State and then took back his starting spot the last four games.
“More than anything, the time that I missed out on this year, just having that bad taste in my mouth,” Smith said of his reasoning for coming back.
Smith said he spoke with cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat and Leonhard about the decision, and they pointed him in the direction of two former players with experience in making it. Caesar Williams decided to return for a sixth year in 2021 and earned All-Big Ten honors as part of the top defense in the country. He’s currently on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad. Faion Hicks had a chance to return in 2022 for a sixth season but decided to declare for the draft. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round by Denver and he is on the Broncos practice squad.
The difference between them and Smith is they were multi-year starters while this season was going to be Smith’s first in a starting role. He’s already made an impact since returning to the lineup, helping the defense hold opposing offenses under 200 yards in each of the last three games.
“I want to go out with a bang, give these guys, my teammates what they deserve,” Smith said. “I feel like they can get all of me next year.”
In total, 15 seniors will be honored during Saturday’s game against Minnesota.