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Wisconsin RB Corey Clement looks to leave past struggles behind

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Corey Clement is opting for a fresh start in 2016 following a disappointing junior campaign. And that even includes changing his jersey number.

Clement is now wearing No. 24 instead of No. 6, which he wore the past three seasons, in an effort to separate himself from the failures that dogged him both on and off the field a year ago. He was considered a potential Heisman Trophy candidate before last season began, the heir apparent to Doak Walker Award winner Melvin Gordon. But Clement barely played, first because of injury reasons and later for a disciplinary issue, when Badgers coach Paul Chryst suspended him for one game.

"Twenty-four is kind of a new start," Clement said Tuesday after Wisconsin completed its second spring practice. "I'm not letting six go entirely. I'm just seeing how it goes throughout the spring. Me and Coach Chryst are talking about really changing my mindset and attitude towards how I approach practice each day.

"He kind of made a joke out of it. He was like, 'Can you really handle 24 because 24 is the workload number'? And he referred me to Marshawn Lynch. He was like, 'Beast Mode retired, but hopefully you're not doing this out of coincidence because he did it.' I really like the number. I think it fits me well."

Last season, Clement rushed for 221 yards on only 48 carries, one year after he gained 949 yards in a backup role to Gordon. Clement suffered a sports hernia injury during Wisconsin's season opener against eventual national champion Alabama and never recovered. He underwent a surgical procedure in Germany at midseason and missed seven consecutive games.

"I'm feeling a lot better," he said. "Throughout the season, time wasn't on my side. Now I've got another chance to come back and redeem myself and come back for a stronger season that I hoped to have last year. I get a chance to recuperate, regenerate my mind and look forward to a positive season."

Clement, a 5-foot-11, 214-pounder from Glassboro, New Jersey, returned last season to put on a show during Wisconsin's victory against Rutgers on Oct. 31, carrying 11 times for 115 yards with three touchdowns. But the hernia injury lingered and forced him to miss the following week's game at Maryland. That night, Clement was cited in Madison for two counts of disorderly conduct after throwing the first punch during a dispute at his off-campus apartment. He sustained a cut on his hand and was forced to pay $848 in fines.

Initially, Clement misled school officials by insisting he was the victim in the altercation, claiming several men attacked him and a security guard. But the police report, which included video surveillance of the incident, noted he used "derogatory and sexually explicit language directed toward a female" and instigated the fight. The findings prompted Chryst to leave Clement off the traveling squad for Wisconsin's regular-season finale at Minnesota.

"I believe in becoming a better person before a player," Clement said Tuesday. "Everybody knows the incident last year. It's just all about making smart decisions because you're under this magnifying glass, and everything you do isn't equivalent to the average person on campus, so I've got to really watch my back."

Chryst noted this week that he liked what he had seen from Clement over the past few months. The goal moving forward was for Clement to learn from his mistakes. Badgers offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Clement appeared to be doing just that.

"The first part of change is recognition," Rudolph said. "And I think that's really good that he recognizes that because I think that's growth. He'll have it and he'll show it, and it's pretty cool he's able to say that and get to that point."

Clement said he gained a great deal from his turbulent season. He acknowledged he set his sights on leaving school a year early for the NFL draft, focusing on the outcome well before he had begun the process.

"Last year was kind of an example of stop thinking into the future and live in the now," Clement said. "I think God put me back into this team once again because I was thinking about the league, just like it was all amped up. I'm like, 'Man, I've got one more chance to ball out with my guys.' But in reality, I still have another chance to play on my team again."

Clement figures to be one of the most important pieces to Wisconsin's offense as the Badgers attempt to reach their fourth Big Ten championship game in the six-year history of the event. A year ago, he spent time boasting that he wanted to rush for 2,000 yards and be considered one of the top tailbacks in college football. This time around, he intends to allow the work to speak for itself.

"I'm just going to let everything pan out," Clement said. "I think last year, just setting everything out there kind of set me back. All throughout high school and my first two years here, I just let the game come to me."