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Wisconsin OL Tanor Bortolini 'thrilled' to be back after injury

After going down with an injury in fall camp, Wisconsin offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini saw first-team reps against New Mexico State and is back for the Badgers.
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After playing in 12 games the past two seasons, including five starts in 2021, expectations were high for redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini entering the 2022 season.

The versatile interior blocker entered this past spring as one of the top contenders to win a starting position along the offensive line and with playing experience under his belt at center, guard, and tackle. In the spring, new offensive line coach Bob Bostad had Bortolini primarily focus at center with Joe Tippmann unavailable, understanding that the plan entering fall camp was for him to be the primary backup at the position.

However, early in fall camp, Bortolini earned several first-team reps at guard as well, and appeared ready to push senior Michael Furtney for the starting right guard spot early in the practices available to media members. Unfortunately, Bortolini went down with a knee injury during a practice available to media members on August 15.

"I felt the pop, so I knew something was torn," Bortolini told reporters about when it happened in practice. At that point, many around the program, Bortolini included, feared that the knee injury might sideline him for the entire 2022 season."I didn't get my MRI until the next day and, you're obviously nervous because it's something in your knee, you have no idea what it's going to be."

Bortolini would hear back two days later that he would need surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus and some cartilage behind his knee cap. While any injury is not great news, Bortolini was "just being happy to even have a chance to play, so I was thrilled. You know, you are never happy something is hurt, but I was pretty happy I tore my meniscus," he said after the New Mexico State game.

Over the past month, Bortolini has been working closely with the medical staff to diligently rehab in hopes of seeing the field. "It was good," Bortolini said of the recovery, "but I had to get back to putting weight on it, trusting it, because it is bone on bone."

After missing the first two games of the season, Bortolini finally got back on the practice field last week. "This week I felt like I was at a point where I felt comfortable doing everything and then doing it live," the sophomore guard said.

During practice, he concentrated his attention on right guard, and the plan going into the New Mexico State game was to get him on the field to test out the knee. With minutes left in the first quarter, assistant coach Bob Bostad opted to insert Bortolini and fellow sophomore Trey Wedig into the lineup on the right side. A move that head coach Paul Chryst and the staff were hoping to make at some point in the game. "How can we get them some reps, [we] wanted to do it early," Chryst noted in his postgame availability, also adding that it was "really good for us to be able to get [that] done."

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In the end, the switch proved to be a key catalyst for Wisconsin's 66-point performance. The duo helped pave the way for five touchdown drives when on the field together, and Chryst believes that "it was energizing having them in there" for the team. With Big Ten competition set to begin this weekend, it will now be interesting to see how both players factor into Bostad's plans going forward. 

Bortolini said after the game that although he is playing through pain, he is ready for more. Based on his play against New Mexico State, it would not be a shock to see more playing time come his way either. The Kewaunee (Wis.) native is no longer on the updated injury report for this week and has made his first appearance on the 2022 depth chart ahead of this weekend's game. 

However, Bortolin is still taking it drive-by-drive at this point and is just happy to be back on the field. "It was a lot of fun, it felt really good playing out there, it's nice to be back." 

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