University of Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst dismissed redshirt freshman Jalen Berger from the team on Sunday.
UW released a statement announcing the news but did not give a reason for the dismissal. Berger didn’t play in the Badgers’ 24-0 win over Illinois on Saturday in Champaign despite traveling with the team and has played in two of UW’s games this year.
Berger was the team’s leading rusher last season, but he had fallen down the depth chart after the arrival of Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi and freshman Braelon Allen.
In seven career games for the Badgers, Berger rushed 84 times for 389 yards and three scores, and added four catches for 30 yards. A message left with Berger on Sunday seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Berger, a four-star recruit out of Newark, New Jersey, was one of the top recruits in the program’s 2020 class. He was limited to four games in 2020 after a preseason injury hampered him coming out of training camp and he contracted COVID-19 late in the year.
The lack of playing time for Berger has been a consistent theme for the Badgers (2-3), but Chryst has not offered much in the way of an explanation.
After Berger didn’t play in the opener against Penn State, Chryst said that he liked the way Mellusi and junior Isaac Guerendo were playing and that the flow of the game didn’t necessitate adding plays for Berger.
“Just because he didn’t play doesn’t mean he’s doing something wrong. It’s also (we) liked what Chez did and Isaac did,” Chryst said the Monday after the opener.
He added a few days later: “There is not a sideshow going on,” regarding Berger.
Chryst gave a similar answer about Berger’s lack of playing time against Illinois.
“I liked the way that Braelon and Chez were going and (Brady Schipper) served a role for us that I thought was right for ‘Schip’ this week,” Chryst said Saturday.
Berger spoke to reporters following the Eastern Michigan game, when he made his season debut and had 15 carries for 62 yards and a score. He said he “can’t really give an answer right now” when he was asked about not playing against Penn State.
“I’m just waiting for my number to be called,” he said. “I mean, it’s in the past now and I’m just prepared to move forward and focus on next week.”
Mellusi, who is Berger’s roommate, said after Saturday’s game that he’d continue to support Berger.
“I’ve got to keep pushing him and keep encouraging him,” Mellusi said. “A lot of those things are out of my control. If I want to lead the room like I know I am, I have to make sure everyone’s all in.”
Berger is the third tailback to leave the program since training camp began and the second to be dismissed. Freshman Loyal Crawford was dismissed from the team and freshman Antwan Roberts was suspended and later entered the transfer portal after the two were involved in an altercation at a residence hall in August. Multiple State Journal sources have confirmed that Berger was not involved in that altercation.
That leaves UW with Mellusi, Allen, Guerendo and Schipper as realistic options at the position. Freshmen Jackson Acker and Grover Bortolotti and sophomore Julius Davis didn’t get many looks with the first or second units during training camp.
Berger told the State Journal last season when he became the starting tailback that he was looking forward to adding another chapter to the New Jersey running back legacy at UW, which included players such as Ron Dayne and Jonathan Taylor before him. That opportunity never came to pass.
“I guess we play with a chip on our shoulder because everyone looks at Florida and California and all of those other players, but everyone sleeps on Jersey,” Berger said in December. “I think that’s what it is. When we get to college, we try to get us out there more.”