Milton's Nate Hammon sees UW football career cut short
Someone came up to Milton native Nate Hammon and said they saw where he had “quit” the University of Wisconsin football team.
“Quit?” Hammon said. “That's kind of harsh.”
Hammon, who realized a lifelong dream when he was offered a football scholarship at UW, would love to play his junior season for the Badgers.
His legs just won't allow that to happen.
Hammon, who starred as a quarterback at Milton High and spent his first two seasons at Wisconsin at receiver, finally saw extensive action at safety last season.
He earned his first letter, starting twice while playing in 12 games under the new coaching staff headed by Gary Andersen.
It was a feel-good story about a small-town kid playing for his big-time state college team in front of 80,000 fans.
But then his legs went numb.
Hammon knew the cause. A year before, he had been diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome. Due to pressure within his leg muscles, blood veins are damaged and blood does not flow smoothly back to the heart.
His father, Don, also has the condition.
Nate had surgery in May 2013. Several varicose veins were stripped, which helped create better blood flow. Recovery from the surgery on both legs kept Hammon from lifting weights during the offseason.
“I went into last year not out of shape, but not as well as I could have been,” Hammon said.
That did not prevent him from earning playing time at his new position of safety. But by the time the final regular season game against Penn State came Nov. 30, Hammon's legs were hurting.
“They got pretty bad,” he said.
In that final regular-season game, Nittany Lions freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, leading the 25-point underdogs to a 31-24 upset of the Badgers at Camp Randall.
Hammon was the victim on a few of the big plays.
“I don't want to blame it on (compartment syndrome), but I wasn't as confident in my legs as I should have been,” Hammon said. “I was maybe 90 percent. If I was 100 percent, maybe I run up a little harder to make a tackle.”
Hammon saw limited action in the Badgers' bowl game against South Carolina.
“My legs just kind of quit on me,” he said.
More surgeries followed in January and April. He thought he would be able to practice during the last half of spring ball, but after two days of running, his legs went numb again.
The April surgery removed more diseased vessels.
“It seemed to work for a week or so,” Hammon said.
Then the pain and numbness returned.
After three surgeries within a year, his doctor advised him to drop football.
“He said it's just going to keep being frustrating for you,” Hammon said.
So Hammon went to Andersen and told him he would no longer be on the squad.
Hammon has nothing but praise for the UW head coach, along with safeties coach Bill Busch.
Hammon admits his attitude stunk during his first two seasons. He was a receiver on the scout team, without any hope of seeing game action.
“I didn't know what to work on,” he said. “Some days, I hated everyone.”
The first-year staff created a new beginning. Hammon took advantage.
“Coach Busch told me, 'Nate, you're not the same human being as you were on Day 1,'” Hammon said. “As a human being, I've learned a lot.”
Hammon could have stayed on the team. He would not have started, but his experience would have earned him some playing time.
But deep down he knew that would not have been the right thing to do.
“It would be selfish to go out there when if your legs aren't working right, you mess up a play,” Hammon said. “Mentally and with my experience, yes, I could help the team out.”
Hammon keeps his scholarship under a medical disability clause and does not count toward the football scholarship limit.
He is on track to graduate in 1½ semesters with a degree in dietetics and would like to get into sports nutrition.
He is still digesting life without football. He does not plan to be part of the Badgers.
“It's hard to be around them,” he said of his former teammates. “It's not like they're distancing themselves. Sometimes when I go in for tutoring, I'll see some of them, and we'll say hi. They're still all my friends.”
So, yes, saying Nate Hammon quit the Badger football team is harsh.
“I was from a small town in Wisconsin and playing on a team I dreamed of playing for. I was going to try everything I could to play.”
It just didn't work out.