NSD: Holding the Class Together

Although Bret Bielema lost a pair of four-star recruits, and appeared none too happy about it, Wisconsin's head coach was able to weather the storm of losing assistant coaches and battling potential poachers to put together a top 25 class.

MADISON - The upheaval of his coaching staff came at the right time for Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.

With so few scholarships available in the 2012 recruiting class, the amount of damage and reassurance Bielema needed to do with his 12-member recruiting class was at a minimum.

"If (we) were dealing with a class of 22, 23, I think it would have been a huge challenge," said Bielema, who credited assistant coach Charlie Partridge stepping into the recruiting coordinator role on an interim basis. "I can't stay enough of my staff for pulling the belt a little bit tighter … and just went after things."

Wisconsin's 12-man scholarship class is solid. While the overall ranking is low because of the limited number of people, the Badgers grabbed five four-star recruits and, as of Wednesday evening, were tied for 21st in the country with a 3.17 average star per recruit ranking.

It could have been better, however, as four-star offensive line recruits J.J. Denman (Rutgers) and Kyle Dodson (Ohio State) both decommitted from Wisconsin in the final month before signing day.

"Obviously I know there were two guys that at one point or another were committed to us," Bielema said. "In the end, they weren't really committed to us. They were just a spot on the wall with a name and a scholarship next to them."

Bielema didn't address Denman's recruitment, but did talk briefly about Dodson, who gave his verbal commitment to Wisconsin, despite a late offer from Ohio State, on June 13 and took an official visit for the Penn State game.

"One of things that happened when Kyle came aboard, I basically said to our staff at the time, ‘Ohio State is going to have transition and we have to be prepared for when that happens and we can be strong' and we were to the end," Bielema said. "When Kyle reached out to us this afternoon, he talked about staying close to home. He's a kid who lives with his grandmother and grandmother only. You can't fault a kid for that."

It was also a challenge for Wisconsin to keep its walk-on program intact. After leaving for Pittsburgh, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst offered full scholarships to athlete Leo Musso, kicker Jack Russell and lineman Gabe Roberts. Musso was given a full scholarship offer and Russell a delayed scholarship offer, but Roberts wasn't.

Bielema didn't mention him by name, but Roberts, who visited UW this past weekend, apparently was disappointed that UW couldn't come through for him.

"A young man here the state that I met with on Saturday, it was tearing his heart out because he wanted to come here and play for Wisconsin," said Bielema. "It's just a pure scholarship numbers thing. They don't want to go halfway across the country in a city where they don't their name and play in front of 15,000 people. They want to play in front of 80,000 and do what we do. Unfortunately, we can't give them out to everybody.

"They went in on some of our guys, so that doesn't sit over very well. I got a kick (out of) that one of the guys we were recruiting at the offensive line position was told by a offensive line coach at Pitt that we were going to be running the spread."

Bielema also was turned down by Franklin offensive lineman Levon Myers, who he offered a late scholarship, because Myers wanted to honor his original commitment. Bielema did, however, hire former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren's offensive coordinator in Matt Canada.

"Everyone is still invited to my wedding," said Bielema. "It could be one hell of a party afterward. We'll see where it goes from there."

Sitting at 85?

After Bart Houston and Walker Williams faxed in their letter of intents, Wisconsin's football program had all of its 85 allotted scholarships accounted for. It appears that number will have some wiggle room going forward.

Bielema confirmed that scholarship linebacker Cameron Ontko is back in Ohio and has left the program for unspecified reasons. Bielema also mentioned that walk-on kicker Alec Lerner has decided to leave the program because his academic workload became too overwhelming.

"Alec just kind of got to a point where academics and athletics, he had to balance it out and he needed to go to academics," Bielema said.

But while the Badgers dropped a scholarship, Wisconsin might gain a scholarship back if junior Casey Dehn is accepted back in the program.

After playing in 12 games with one start as a redshirt freshman, Dehn played in five of the first six games this past season before leaving the program, apparently after him and former offensive line coach Bob Bostad butted heads. Dehn has joined the team for winter conditioning, and may be back for spring football as well if he makes a good impression on his teammates and coaches.

Dehn's departure, which at the time was said to be his decision to focus more on track and field, stemmed from his relationship with departed offensive line coach Bob Bostad.

"Him and his position coach at the time had quite a few disagreements on how to do things," Bielema said of Dehn. "I didn't guarantee him a spot back on the roster. What I guaranteed him is a spot to come into winter conditioning. He's a kid that's started games that we've won."

Bielema said Dehn is no longer throwing the shot put or discus for track and will be back on scholarship if he follows through with his dedication to the team and the classroom.

"It was just a rough time in Casey's life," said Bielema. "I reached out to several of the O-linemen, especially the senior O-linemen and returning starters, and they were very interested in having Casey with us."

Bielema also said that depending on what happens with the rest of the signing class, Musso will either join the Badgers in the summer or take a grayshirt and join the Badgers in January 2013. If UW chooses the latter, Wisconsin can pay for his summer school, he'll be off scholarship for the 2012 season and be back on scholarship starting next January, which is when his eligibility clock would start.

"I actually think it benefits a kid like him," said Bielema. "He'll get five-and-a-half years of eligibility. Where he's at physically, I know he thinks he's strapped up (and) good looking, but where he can be in three years in pretty impressive."

Living on the Road

With the way he has racked up frequent flier miles over the last month, Bielema can take his soon-to-be wife practically anywhere she wants to go.

After a tough defeat in Pasadena, Bielema had to race back to Madison to meet with an offensive coordinator candidate, who was reportedly Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, have an in-home visit with Kenosha Bradford running back Vonte Jackson the next day, take a 6 a.m. flight out to California to have an in-home visit with Bart Houston the next day, took a 7 a.m. flight to Washington to see Walker Williams the next day and took a red eye flight back home to recoup for seven hours before flying out to San Antonio for the National Coaches Convention.

"It's been a little insanity," Bielema said.

After interviewing over 20 coaches over five days, Bielema spent two days in Madison before driving down to Illinois to have an in-home visit with Dan Voltz, flew to Florida for two days, flew to Pittsburgh for two days and continue the recruiting binge.

"It's been on the run, but it has probably been one of the most enjoyable times of my life," said Bielema. "I don't think my fiancé would say that. It was fun because I got to meet so many great coaches … Just the amount of comments I got walking through an airport. I don't have any Wisco gear on and people just congratulating me on the season. Not just Big Ten fans, but Pac 12 fans, Big 12 fans and SEC fans who like the way we play football."

Bielema said he hopes to hire his final coach – a tight end coach – in the next week. From there, he plays to determine the recruiting territories of his assistant coaches.

Extra Points: Bielema said he interviewed 13 offensive line coaches before hiring Mike Markuson, and almost lost him to an NFL job opportunity … Bielema said 18 of his 21 seniors came from two-parents homes and 99 of his 120-man roster come from two-parent homes … Bielema said co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach/assistant coach Charlie Partridge won't be the recruiting coordinator next season because of the amount of things on his plate.

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