MILWAUKEE (AP) -P.J. Hill, version 2.0, is a little leaner - but not necessarily meaner.
After running for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman at Wisconsin last year, Hill missed spring football practice because the wear and tear caused by his punishing running style forced him to have shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Hill slimmed down while he was sitting out, dropping to 224 pounds from a listed 242 last year.
Going into No. 7 Wisconsin's opener against Washington State on Saturday, Hill is determined to avoid making contact just for the sake of making contact this season.
``I took a lot of hits, and I delivered a lot of hits also,'' Hill said. ``So from watching film from last season, there were a lot of hits that I looked at, I was like, 'I shouldn't have (taken) that hit.' So I'm still going to be a physical back, that's just in me. I like being physical. I'm just going to be smart about the contact that I make.''
Instead of leaning in to deliver a hit on a defensive player at the end of a play, the Badgers' bruising running back now swears he'll just run out of bounds.
So in other words, he's going to look a little less like Ron Dayne and more like, say, Barry Sanders?
Hill just laughs.
``No, I'm still going to be physical,'' Hill said. ``But you might see a little more moves, running around defenders more than running through them.''
Hill's bowling ball running style has earned him comparisons to Dayne, Wisconsin's 1999 Heisman Trophy winner. Hill recently met Dayne and now considers him a friend, but he doesn't like being compared to him - or anybody else.
``There's a lot of good backs out there, like Ron Dayne, a lot of good backs in the conference,'' Hill said. ``But I feel like I have a different type of running game. Everybody probably feels like they have a different type of running game. I don't think you want to be compared to somebody else, because then they'll always see you as that person instead of, 'That's P.J. Hill.' So I just want to be seen as, 'That's P.J. Hill's type of running game.'''
Still, Hill said he is leaning on Dayne for advice.
``That's a really nice guy,'' Hill said. ``He asked me if I need to work with him, just call him up. I have his number. That's a guy that made his mark here, so I was very proud to speak to him. He gave me a lot of support, told me, 'You've got to still go out there and play hard. You had a good season and things like that.' And I took a lot of that into consideration.''
Besides playing with a little more finesse, Hill expects to be better at reading his blocks and be more involved in the passing game this season.
Hill's success is critical to the Badgers. Already known as a team that relies heavily on its running game, they're breaking in a new starting quarterback, fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan.
The Badgers return the bulk of last year's offensive line, but are missing one big piece - left tackle Joe Thomas, who was drafted No. 3 overall by the Cleveland Browns in April. Redshirt freshman Gabe Carimi has been tabbed as Thomas' replacement.
``Joe Thomas, that was a big loss,'' Hill said. ``But you know, that was Joe Thomas. It was his time to go, he's on to bigger and better things. But we've got guys that I feel can do a good job at that position.''
Washington State coach Bill Doba might have provided some motivation for Wisconsin this week when he said he felt more comfortable about opening the season in Madison than he did facing a speedy Auburn team in the Alabama heat last season.
``They are big and strong,'' Doba said of Wisconsin. ``They'll try to be like road graders and clear us out. This is a better match for us.''
Hill knows that if he's running effectively, it will open opportunities for tight end Travis Beckum and wide receivers Luke Swan and Paul Hubbard in the passing game.
``As defenses adjust because they know we're a running-type team and defenses adjust to the running game, we've also got big play makers,'' Hill said.
He insists he isn't paying attention to talk that he might be a Heisman Trophy contender this season, but acknowledges high expectations for the Badgers as a team.
``Our players are ready to go,'' Hill said. ``We weren't expected to do a lot last year, but just from our results last year, we have some high expectations just to do better and show a lot of people that this is a really good program.''

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