NSD: Bielema's First Class Measures Up

The class wasn't revered when it was first announced, but five years after Bret Bielema's first signing class at Wisconsin, the head coach was able to recruit some standout players in his frantic off season.

MADISON - In July 2005, longtime Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez announced he would retire at season's end and named Bret Bielema, then the Badgers' defensive coordinator, as his successor.

Bielema was lauded as a young, fiery, up-and-coming coach that had a good knack of schemes and was a solid recruiter. But the thing working against Bielema during that year in waiting was his staff, or lack thereof, that hindered the staff's ability to accurately fill the needs of the class.

As a result, 13 of UW's 23 member class didn't fulfill its eligibility at Wisconsin, either transferring or leaving the program all together.

"We had to do a lot of scrambling after the bowl game to piece that class together," Bielema said.

Even though Wisconsin went 12-1 in 2006, the missteps of that first recruiting class came back to bite UW in '07 and '08, where the program went 16-10. The players that stayed, however, made Wisconsin's 2006 signing class, ranked No.37 by Scout.com that season, pay off in a big way.

The nine fifth-year seniors that stayed the course made up the heart of a Wisconsin team that won its first conference championship since 1999 and pushed No.3 TCU to the brink in a 21-19 loss in the Rose Bowl: quarterback Scott Tolzien, left tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard John Moffitt, center Bill Nagy wide receiver Isaac Anderson, tight end Lance Kendricks, linebackers Culmer St. Jean, cornerback Niles Brinkley and strong safety Jay Valai. Rank them today and the class is easily in the top 20.

They were Bielema's first recruiting class as coach of the Badgers, and he felt that deep connection with players he recruited from start to finish.

"It helps me so much more now in recruiting to sit in these kids' homes," Bielema said. "Those kids before, I knew them from being in the program, but I didn't know where they had come from, I had never been in their homes. As much as you think you know them, it's not always the truth."

The Best

Isaac Anderson, ** NR WR, Minneapolis – Anderson finished 22nd in school history with 1,048 career receiving yards after catching 24 passes for 233 yards his senior year. Anderson didn't catch a touchdown pass this year, but his shining moment was his 80-yard touchdown catch on the first offensive play in UW's 2009 season.

Niles Brinkley, *** 67 CB, St. Louis - Brinkley emerged as a starting cornerback in fall camp and never wavered on his position, an impressive feat considering he came to Wisconsin as a wide receiver. Brinkley started all 13 games this year, set a career high in tackles (48) and added a team-best nine pass deflections, and honorable mention All-Big Ten selection.

Gabe Carimi, *** NR OL, Cottage Grove, Wis. – A consensus All-American and the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, Carimi started 49 of 52 possible games at left tackle, missing only three games in '08, and battled through a sprained AC joint in his shoulder his junior year and gutted through a dislocated knee cap in UW's victory over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Lance Kendricks, **** WR, Milwaukee – After finishing third on team in receiving touchdowns (three) and fourth in receptions (29) and receiving yards (356) his junior year, Kendricks emerged from the shadows of his predecessors to set career highs in catches (43), yards (663) and touchdowns (five). Kendricks was an AFCA All-American, AP second-team All-American, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten and a John Mackey Award finalist his senior year.

John Moffitt, ** NR OL, West Haven, CT - Establishing himself as one of the more versatile linemen in the conference, having started 15 games at center and 27 games at left guard, Moffitt all started 13 games this season at guard and anchored the left side of the line next to Carimi. Like Carimi, Moffitt was a first-team All-American selection.

Bill Nagy, *** 55 OL, Hudson, Ohio - Nagy played in all 13 games, with four starts at right guard, two at tight end and two at center, including filling in at center during the second half of the Iowa win after never playing the position, a big reason he was the winner of the coaches' appreciation award. Nagy played in 29 games and 11 starts in his career.

Culmer St. Jean, ** NR S, Naples, Fla. – Finishing with 165 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss during his career, St. Jean, one of six captains for Wisconsin in 2010, could be one of Bielema's favorite players. The head coach was the one who offered St. Jean a scholarship, gave him an opportunity to start at middle linebacker and set him up for a NFL career.

Scott Tolzien, ** 70 QB, Rolling Meadows, Ill. - The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, Tolzien holds school records for career completion percentage at .681 (min. 300 att.) and career QB efficiency rating of 153.2 (min. 300 att.), ranks fourth at UW with 5,271 career passing yards and 410 career completions, sixth at Wisconsin with 32 career passing touchdowns and seventh with 5,262 yards of total offense and 602 career pass attempts.

Mickey Turner, ** NR TE, Camdenton, MO. - Elected one of the team captains in '09, Turner's blocking ability in the backfield made up for the Badgers losing two talented fullbacks and his quiet leadership skills were stellar. Turner played in 48 games (14 starts) and finished with 10 receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. He was the only player in the class to play his first four seasons.

Jay Valai, ** NR CB, Colleyville, TX – Finishing with 153 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in his career, Valai got the reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the conference. He's knocked a Minnesota player's helmet decal off their helmet and he came up with one of the plays of the UW's season, blocking a potential game-tying PAT try late in the fourth quarter in the win over Arizona State.

The Rest

Jake Bscherer, ****22 OL, Sturgeon Bay, Wis. – Bscherer saw action at guard and tackle in '09, played in all 13 games (six starts) and finished last season as UW's No. 3 tackle, capable of filling in for Josh Oglesby on the right side and Gabe Carimi on the left side. With Bscherer slated to be a backup this season, the fifth-year senior transferred to Southern Illinois so he could start instead of sit.

Kirk DeCremer, ** NR DE, Verona, Wis. – Promising defensive end from Verona, DeCremer recorded 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman at defensive end and was named a first-team freshman All-American by The Sporting News before chronic back injuries cut his career short.

Ricky Garner, ** NR DE, Pasadena, Calif. – Garner left the program before the '09 season for unspecified reasons.

Xavier Harris, ** NR WR, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Harris has eight receptions for 73 yards in his first two seasons, but lingering back problems that surgery couldn't correct forced him to leave the program.

Brandon Hoey, *** 47 DT, Arden Hills, MN. – Spending two years on campus, Hoey, like Harris, was hindered with back problems that surgery couldn't correct enough to let him keep competing.

Diondrae Jenkins, ** NR WR, Racine, Wis. – Jenkins never played a down for Wisconsin, leaving the March after signing day, saying that he wanted to focus on academics and not athletics.

Daven Jones, *** 98 WR, Cleveland, Ohio – Jones' enrollment was delayed one year because of academics and when he finally got the campus, he never could quite catch on, eventually leaving the program before the '09 season.

Jamathan Lyle, *** 69 CB, Boulder, Co. – Lyle enrolled early and competed in spring practice but he left the program during the summer and never returned.

Maurice Moore, ** NR WR, Everman, TX – Moore had three catches for 45 yards in nine games, had been a regular part of the receiver rotation and also returned punts and kickoffs in '09, but was kicked off the team after he was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Moore, who was also suspended for the '08 bowl game, eventually got to participate in bowl practices, but did not return last season.

Josh Nettles **NR RB, Defuniak Springs, Fla. – Nettles switched to cornerback upon his arrival to Madison and played in seven games his sophomore season, registering nine tackles and an interception. He was expected to battle for one of the starting CB jobs but became academically ineligible before the '08 season.

Kimuel Royston, *** 42 CB, St. Paul, MN – Royston was a promising defensive back that played in 25 career games for the Badgers with 22 tackles and one interception. However, he and his father believed he wasn't given a fair shot to start at safety in the '08 spring camp and Royston transferred back to Minnesota, despite Bielema's best efforts to prevent that move from happening. Royston has been bothered by injuries since, but was recently given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Lance Smith, *** 44 RB, Warren, Ohio - Finishing the '07 season as the team's third-leading rusher (429 yards on 71 carries), Smith averaged six yards per carry in eight appearances. He could have had more had he not been suspended for all of UW's regular season road contests following a summer altercation with his girlfriend. After he ran afoul of certain restrictions placed on him by the first-offender program, Bielema released Smith from his scholarship, and the running back eventually transferred to Memphis.

Brad Thorson, ** NR OL, Mequon, Wis. – Thorson switched his commitment from the Gophers to the Badgers the week before signing day but was effectively run out of the program after he injured junior Dan Moore in a one-on-one blocking drill during the '09 spring camp.

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