HOUSTON - When Gary Andersen was first hired at the University of Wisconsin in December 2012, he was lauded for his ability to recruit in any part of the country, something the Badgers’ football program had never quite experienced.
In his first full recruiting cycle with his staff, Andersen made sure his staff utilized their connections to sell their product in their areas of knowledge and expertise. That led the coaching staff to aggressively recruit Arizona, California, the East Coast, Florida, Georgia, the Pacific Northwest, Utah, Virginia and spot recruiting in other regions.
But nobody went into Texas, arguably the most fertile high school recruiting territory in the country.
“You establish what you believe is the right spots to be, and we were not heavily involved in Texas the first year,” said Andersen. “We just very quickly ran out of time. Now we are.”
And the results speak for themselves. Moving safeties coach Bill Busch, one of the staff’s best recruiters, from Arizona and the West Coast to Texas and Florida, Wisconsin has unofficially offered 23 seniors in the state and secured early verbal commitments from four prospects from the two biggest football areas in the state: Dallas Metroplex and Houston.
For a region traditionally recruited hard by the in-state schools, the Oklahoma schools and the SEC, that’s a significant dent right out of the gate.
“I think we've had some a little bit of success there,” said Andersen. “It's great football. High school football is very important. The kids play at a high level. They go through a lot; they go through some spring balls. There's a lot of reasons to recruit Texas, not just because they have tremendous athletes, but the kids understand the important of the game.”
None of the four Wisconsin commits are the crème de crème of the state, but the group comes from a collection of some of the state’s best high school programs. Outside linebacker Chris Orr plays for DeSoto, which is ranked No.14 in the Scout.com preseason ranking, while cornerbacks X'zavien Ausborne and Takadrae Williams come from a Dallas South Oak Cliff program that has had at least one FBS signee every year since 2004.
“When you can get a couple of commitments from a loaded program like South Oak Cliff, it's always a good thing,” said Gabe Brooks, a Scout.com recruiting analyst who covers the state of Texas, noting that 13 players on the roster have at least one FBS offer (six committed) and that Louisville offered 10 of the school’s players on the same day during the spring.
“There are several inner-city Dallas and south Dallas programs - namely, DeSoto, Cedar Hill, Dallas Skyline and South Oak Cliff - that produce a lot of talent on an annual basis. The 2016 class at will have more FBS players. Three already have at least one FBS offer, including outside linebacker Marvin Terry, a Scout four-star who's ranked No. 111 nationally in the 2016 cycle.”
While Ausborne, Orr and Williams are overshadowed by higher-profile teammates, Missouri City Marshall tailback Davon Crookshank is likely the best of the group. Committing in late July over offers from Baylor, Colorado, Houston, Kansas, among others, Crookshank picked the Badgers because of their downhill running style, tradition of having a big offensive line and for the program turning Montee Ball into a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I like his film the best and his style really fits that Wisconsin/Big Ten mentality,” Brooks said of Crookshank. “He's a north-south runner and physical when he needs to be. He's almost 200 pounds, so even though he's a little limited by his frame, he should easily get north of 200 pounds as a college back.”
While it’s unlikely Wisconsin will land another 2015 prospect in Texas, the Badgers have already offered the state’s second-best wide receiver (Devin Duvernay), the second-best cornerback (Jared Mayden) and a handful of other prospects.
With the Badgers opening the next two seasons against elite level SEC programs, good performances will only help the program’s visibility in the state’s two recruiting hotbeds.
“The bottom line is there are a ton of FBS-caliber players in Texas,” said Brooks. “Even with 12 FBS programs - the most in the country - and bordering states taking a lot of players, there are plenty of players to go around down here. Playing in a high-profile non-conference game in an NFL stadium against an elite program should help Wisconsin's image in the Lone Star State, win or lose.”