In the wake of the shocking news that fifth-year senior defensive lineman David Gilbert will not be returning to play football for Wisconsin, the Badgers were forced to begin life without Gilbert on the defensive side of the ball Saturday.
On Friday, the team announced that Gilbert would be ending his college football career after battling foot injuries for the past two years and finally undergoing surgery on his right foot in mid-March.
"Our whole focus goes to David and make sure he's set in moving along in life," head coach Gary Andersen said after Wisconsin's open practice on Saturday. "We've lost a very good player. We all know that."
Gilbert played in 12 games during his freshman campaign, showing glimpses of his athletic ability, most notably in a game against Purdue where the defensive lineman leaped over Purdue's line to block a punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Gilbert continued to see time and increased production in his sophomore year at UW, recording 26 tackles.
In 2011, Gilbert's injury woes began when he broke his foot and was limited to four games.
In 2012, the Florida native was finally able to start a full season despite still battling an ailing foot. Gilbert notched 42 tackles and earned a consensus selection as an All-Big Ten honorable mention.
Gilbert was set to move from the defensive line to outside linebacker in UW's new 3-4 system being implemented this year by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
The 6-foot-4, 247-pound athlete would have had a shot at securing a spot in the 2014 NFL Draft with a good showing this year, but Gilbert will now have an uphill climb to return to the gridiron.
Although Andersen was never able to personally coach Gilbert, he appreciates what the senior has brought to the program and looks forward to what Gilbert can do in the future.
"David will still be a part of us," Andersen said. "He'll remain on that senior wall that we have on our office for the whole season. It's tough. He would have loved to play his senior year. But, if I'm betting on David, I would say that his days of playing football are not over. It's going to be fun to spend some time with him and get his degree and then move along in life and see what happens."
Gilbert plans to graduate in May with degrees in sociology and political science.