A quick glance at Ethan Hemer’s stats in the box score from Wisconsin’s recent win over Iowa would reveal an above-average six tackles. This would satisfy most who knew he was filling in for the injured Jordan Kohout at defensive tackle.
The more important note, which one wouldn’t see in the neat, concise statistic columns, is that this performance came from a redshirt freshman in his first career start as a Badger.
For Hemer, however, his play was just a matter of handling his assignments for the team.
“You watch enough film. You do enough reps in practice. I felt very confident going in. I felt our coaches had us really well prepared for me to be in that position,” Hemer said.
That his starting debut came in a hostile environment against a ranked team seemed almost irrelevant to Hemer.
“I kind of treated it like every other game. You go into it and for that first snap you’re thinking about [the fact that it's your first start], but then after that it just becomes like any other game,” Hemer said.
Although Hemer had not started a game before he got the call against Iowa, he did have the opportunity to acclimate last season, in which he was awarded defensive scout team player of the year while redshirting.
But a good number of players, if placed in Hemer’s shoes after high school, would likely choose a different path.
Hemer had scholarship offers from Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), South Dakota and Illinois State, among other schools. Instead of accepting a chance to attend a post-secondary institution for free, however, he opted to walk-on for the Badgers.
“I figured it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…I came here just to give it a shot and see what happens,” Hemer said.
Despite his confidence and poise, Hemer admitted he didn’t expect to be presented with an opportunity like this so early in his college football career.
“Honestly, I feel very blessed to be where I’m at. A lot of it is coaching… My technique has improved so much. [I'm] Just getting used to everything and growing as a player,” Hemer said.
Hemer has drawn praise from his coach and fellow defensive linemen for his performance and progression.
“He did a nice job production-wise. He showed how much his fundamentals have improved, and I’m happy with his first start,” defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said.
“We weren’t surprised by the way he played…He’s a talented player and he’s fundamentally sound,” added redshirt junior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym.
Defensive tackle Jordan Kohout, who was forced to watch Hemer start in his place from the sidelines, also lauded Hemer for his capabilities.
“He’s very slippery in his pass rush… He brings a lot of strength to the defensive line to help us win,” Kohout said.
Kohout acknowledged Hemer’s performance but explained it was reflective of the Wisconsin defensive line in general. A wealth of talent is readily available; many players, although they don’t currently start, are fully capable of contributing when needed.
Kohout himself is a redshirt freshman who has started in every game besides the Iowa contest. True freshman Beau Allen is another young player who has seen considerable game action.
“The thing about our defensive line is we have a lot of guys that are able to play and can start and do a good job if they’re asked to do so. [Ethan] works hard and does a good job just like any other starter we have,” Kohout said.
And while Hemer made his first major contribution to the D-line starting and playing well against Iowa, Partridge believes Hemer is just scratching the surface of his potential.
“He’ll continue to compete for a starting role through his career here; I think he has a bright future,” Partridge said. “He’s got a lot of football ahead of him but I’m really proud of how far he’s come in the year he’s been here.”