It was June of 2019 that Jon Dietzen started having the itch to play football again. It had been roughly six months since he’d taken part in the Pinstripe Bowl, what he thought would be his final game for Wisconsin despite having a year of eligibility left. Injuries had taken their toll over his 32 starts and he just couldn’t go any further.
But by the time the Badgers were going through summer conditioning and getting ready to go to fall camp, Dietzen was having second thoughts. Those intensified as the season got underway and he was watching from home. By October, and after starting to work out again and feeling good, it had had gotten to the point where Dietzen wanted back in.
“In the beginning, I tried to stay away from it,” Dietzen said of watching football. “Obviously, growing up playing football, and playing high level football, you’re going to end up sitting around watching football all the time. The more I watched it, the more I started to miss it. Between June and October, the more I talked to my family about it, the more it started to develop. Once I saw Wisconsin playing, specifically, it’s something that really motivated me.”
It was then that he approached coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph about the possibility of rejoining the team. He stayed in touch with them throughout the spring but wasn’t cleared to return until weeks before fall camp. Once camp started, he jumped right back in working at a number of positions along the line.
“I feel pretty good, actually,” Dietzen said. “I feel better and more healthy than I have in previous years, knock on wood. I’m definitely the old guy out there, but it doesn’t quite feel like it sometimes.”
Dietzen’s personality is made for a college football locker room and he’s got the respect of every player because of what he fought through to keep playing. Seeing him back on the field, and his red hair flowing out of his helmet, has been enjoyable for guys like tight end Jake Ferguson.
“As soon as you see him in pads, it’s awesome. And then he’s got the flow going, nothing better than seeing that,” Ferguson said. “It’s almost like nothing has changed. He’s still a leader, still out there kicking butt. It’s awesome to have him out there.”
Chryst and Rudolph have both said he’s moving and bending as well as he ever has. The thought was to limit his reps early in camp, but he said he’s felt good enough that they haven’t done much of that.
“I think Dietzen looks great,” left tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “I know he’s feeling a lot better than he did when I played with him a couple years ago. He’s looking strong and it’s good to have another older guy in the room, guy with experience on the line. It’s been fun.”
Dietzen started 12 games at left tackle in 2018, splitting reps with Van Lanen, who is now entrenched at the position. While comfortable at either spot, Dietzen’s most experience came at left guard, where he started 20 games over two seasons.
“I’m really excited for him personally, to play with him,” Van Lanen said. “We were splitting reps and now we can actually on the line play together as a group.”