Chris Orr's Reserve Season To End With Pinstripe Bowl Start

Chris Orr's Reserve Season To End With Pinstripe Bowl Start

Football

Chris Orr's Reserve Season To End With Pinstripe Bowl Start

MADISON, Wis. – Chris Orr is one of those people that doesn’t squabble over the uncontrollable.

When he earned a starting spot and tore his ACL after one play beginning his sophomore year, he focused on attacking his rehab instead of bemoaning his bad luck.

After having reps taken away because of the high-level play of seniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, Orr cheered them on and embraced his newfound role.

And when young players ask him questions, the junior from DeSoto, TX, jumped at the opportunity to coach.

“I’ve been in the system for a long time,” Orr said. “Everybody knows that I’m a pretty smart player, know the defense in and out. It was pretty easy for me to do that.”

It has been a slightly challenging season for Orr playing second fiddle (after all, his natural competitive instinct wants to be on the field), but it’s been a year that has been just as rewarding with his personal growth.

Orr chose to be a standout special teams contributor instead of a backup pouter. His impact earned him Wisconsin’s special teams player of the year at the team’s banquet earlier this month. He focused on his education, graduating last week with a bachelor’s degree in life sciences communication and will begin focusing on his master’s degree. Orr also became a mentor to up-and-coming inside linebackers Griffin Grady, Jack Sanborn and others, a transition that Orr said happened organically.

“He’s done a great job with the energy, as much on special teams as it is on defense,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. “He’s really become a leader to a lot of young players in this program. A lot of it comes from how he approaches football. He loves football and he loves being on the field every day. Defensively it’s been a little different than it has been in the past for him … We know Chris has earned snaps.”

Orr will earn countless more plays next Thursday. With Connelly needing surgery to fix an undisclosed injury, Orr will make his first start of the season when Wisconsin (7-5) takes on Miami (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City Dec.27.

Connelly’s injury brings Orr full circle. After he tore his ACL against LSU at Lambeau Field, it was Connelly who stepped in and filled the void. In the last two seasons, Connelly played in all 26 games, starting 18 of them, and recorded consecutive seasons of at least 88 tackles.

“At the end of the day, it’s all for the betterment of the team,” Orr said. “I’m not really worried about it … I just take it one day at a time, period. Like I did when my knee injury happened, just an uphill climb and all you can do is keep pushing.”

Things have been far from clear sailing this season for UW’s defense. Already needing to replace seven starters and multiple role players from a unit that was first nationally in total defense (253.0 yards per game) and fourth in scoring (13.2) last year, the Badgers have been bitten badly by the injury bug.

Defensive linemen Garrett Rand (12 games missed), Isaiahh Loudermilk (four) and Olive Sagapolu (four), outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (three), cornerbacks Faion Hicks (one) and Deron Harrell (two), strong safety D’Cota Dixon (three) and free safety Scott Nelson (four) are all starters who have missed time.

Therefore, it’s not a shock to see UW ranked 42nd nationally in total defense (358.8 ypg) and 43rd in points allowed (24.3 ppg).

“We’ve faced a lot of challenges as a defense,” Orr said. “Guys going down, fresh faces coming in and playing, guys who haven’t played a snap of college football coming in and playing, and we’ve been able to roll with it. Defensively, at the end of the day, everybody is still fighting and gaining confidence.”

Following the bowl game, UW’s offseason will begin with a bevy of question marks moving forward. One of them will be how the program will transition without Connelly and Edwards in the middle of the defense.

It will once again bring Orr full circle, giving him a challenge he’s ready to take on.

“When I came in, inside linebacker was the biggest red flag,” Orr said. “We had all the pieces except inside linebacker. From my freshman year to now, it’s the complete opposite. Everyone is praising us. It definitely makes you proud to come in with some guys like T.J., Ryan, Jack Cichy, Leon Jacobs and build the name up for inside linebackers.”

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