MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema hinted Sunday during his team's media day that the Badgers were planning on awarding a few walk-ons with scholarships soon.
So it's probably safe to say that redshirt junior linebacker Ethan Armstrong wasn't pouring over the coverage of media day. Armstrong was awarded a scholarship Tuesday after playing for the Badgers for three years, and he said Wednesday the news took him by surprise.
"It was definitely a surprise," Armstrong said after practice Wednesday. "I'd hoped that I was doing enough to earn one, but he definitely surprised both of us actually. It was awesome."
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Robert Burge also received a scholarship Tuesday night, and it was clear that the rest of the team was happy for their two newest scholarship players.
Defensive tackle Ethan Hemer, a fellow former walk-on, came over during Armstrong's interview to congratulate him again and to pose questions of his own. Armstrong said that he got to speak to the team right after receiving the scholarship, but he couldn't remember exactly what he said Tuesday night.
"It was all just a big whirlwind. I was very surprised," Armstrong said. "I was kind of speechless at first, then I kind of talked I guess about what it meant to earn that scholarship and for everyone here to have supported me through all of it."
"It was really special and really important to me."
Armstrong said he called home to talk to his parents "as soon as he could" to share the good news with them.
"(There were) a lot of tears," Armstrong said. "A lot of screaming, a lot of laughing, a lot of crying. It was a very emotional night."
Armstrong is one of the leading candidates to start next to Chris Borland and Mike Taylor at the strong-side spot, and Armstrong said the news probably gave him a little extra energy for Wednesday's morning practice.
"I had a little more pep in the step I guess," Armstrong said. "Flying around a little bit faster I guess."
It's been a long road for Armstrong, who has started two games in his career but missed spring camp after he had surgery on both hips. Armstrong's hip issues date back to last year, when he decided to delay surgery until after the season and ended up partially dislocating both of them while covering for a kickoff return against Penn State in 2011.
Armstrong said there were times when he questioned whether he would be able to become a scholarship player, but he had to push through those negative thoughts.
"There were a few points," Armstrong said. "Obviously with the injuries it's easy to get down, easy to kind of think 'What if? What if I don't come back? What if it doesn't happen?'"
"You've just kind of got to try and stay as positive as you can."
In addition, the now-former walk-on said he had a pretty good idea of what the scholarship meant, not just to him but also to his coaches and teammates.
"It means that the coaches believe in me, it means that my teammates believe in me, it means that they think that I'm worthy and good enough to play at this university," Armstrong said. "It means that all my hard work has paid off."
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