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MADISON - As new head coach Gary Andersen laid out his three-point priority checklist in his opening remarks Friday, he made it clear that priority one was the kids in the current program; a program that only loses six senior starters after this year's Rose Bowl and is primed for another championship run in his first season.
Priorities two and three had everything to do with the future of his program, reaching out and securing the verbal commitments in the 2013 class and then to start recruiting the future of the program.
"Wisconsin, the football program's recruiting, in my opinion, is obviously very well respected throughout the country," said Andersen at his introductory press conference. "As a staff and as a football program, you should be able to get into any recruiting fight that we want to get ourselves into. There's nowhere you can go in the country when you're a football player that is better than Wisconsin."
Left in limbo since Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas on December 4, Wisconsin's 2013 recruiting class – currently ranked No.26 in the country by Scout.com - has been patiently waiting for yesterday's official announcement. One player – Georgia Military College cornerback Tiquention Coleman – already flipped his commitment to the Razorbacks, leaving 17 verbal commitments the old staff recruited.
A couple of those kids – Westerville (Ohio) South safety Marcus Ball, Brookfield (Wis.) East defensive end Alec James and Aurora (Ill.) tight end Troy Fumagalli – have already scheduled or taken official visits to other schools and many others have gotten new scholarship offers thrown at them (Garret Dooley (Penn State), 2014 OL George Panos (North Carolina State), etc.).
As soon as he gets cleared by the NCAA, Andersen will start reaching out to those who have committed to his program to tell them the brand of football won't change.
"There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of hours, countless hours put into having these young men commit to the University of Wisconsin, the football here," said Andersen. "It's my job now to reach out to those young men, those families, and let them understand the direction that we're headed and that they're in great hands. Their kids are a high priority."
Much like the system Athletic Director Barry Alvarez installed and Bielema continued, Andersen will secure the borders of the state of Wisconsin. The Badgers' 2013 recruiting class has seven in-state commits and the 2014 class has already secured the top four players in state, although Sun Prairie defensive tackle Craig Evans has said he will likely start looking around.
"I went to Utah State four years ago, there was 18 young men from the state of Utah on that team; there's now 55," said Andersen, who said he will reach out to the high school coaches in the coming weeks. "There's 50-plus young men from the state of Wisconsin that are on the roster at this point. I believe the number is 53 is what I've been told.
"We will secure our own state. We'll wrap our arms around the coaches. We'll wrap our arms around every player, and we'll have a strong walk-on program because there's terrific coaches, there's terrific players in the state of Wisconsin. And that's another reason why I sat back and looked at this job.
It's also another reason why Andersen – who didn't dive into much detail on the makeup of his new staff – said that defensive backs coach and in-state recruiter Ben Strickland will remain.
"I want him here in the worst way, and it's important for me to have him on the staff," Andersen said of Strickland. "Ben has shown me how important he is, and he is Wisconsin, if you will. I understand that because that's where I started my coaching career is where I grew up and where I played. There's something special to be a coach."
Andersen is also not going to change the formula of what Wisconsin has found to be successful. Saying the Badgers are going to be a physical running team, Andersen doesn't see why Wisconsin can't continue to recruit great running backs and big, talented offensive linemen to the program, not to mention using tight ends, multiple sets and multiple formations.
"Our goal and our mindset and our want to will be to wear you downs as the game goes on," said Andersen, "and to out tough you and out physical you."
With Wisconsin having established recruiting grounds in Ohio, Northern Illinois, Florida and the East Coast, Andersen said that him and his first staff will, "reach out to any young man in the country and again let them understand who we are as a program."
"There might be a little tweak here or a tweak there, and that's a big part of wanting coaches to stay that have been here because they understand where those ties are in recruiting," said Andersen, who said he doesn't expect any Utah State players or recruits to follow him to Madison. "I think everybody will add their little flavor to what they want and what they expect, as you move on as a staff, but it's been pretty successful, and I look forward to wrapping my arms around it again and understanding it."
Since arriving in Madison Wednesday night, Andersen said the people have stood out to more than the stadium and the first-class facilities that continue to be built that will put his program near the forefront nationally. It's the same impression he got when he and his Utah State team left Camp Randall in mid September after suffering a 16-14 defeat following a missed 37-yard field goal in the final seconds.
"The class as we left this city to go get to the airport was unbelievable," recalled Andersen. "If you don't think that left a lasting impression on our kids, because we left places with great victories, we left places with very difficult defeats, and it's never like that. The support, the thanks -- and it wasn't a, ‘hey, thanks for coming, we beat you.' There was definitely a class act, and that left a lasting impression in my mind of those are fans, and they're in love with their team. They love Wisconsin."
Believing the hardest thing about taking a new job is instilling the belief to win, Andersen is already ahead of the curve with a program that has won three straight conference championships and will appear in its third straight Rose Bowl Jan.1 against No.8 Stanford.
Knowing the product that's on the field and the one that has been established, Andersen knows he won't need a big sales pitch when he walks into a recruit's home with a Wisconsin logo on his shirt.
"There may be some programs out there in the country that have to (sell the program)," said Andersen that. "But that's not what we are and what we're doing. I'm excited to get in those fights in the Big Ten and show people why they should come here.
"If you were asked and take every head coach and every position coach in America and every level of college football and ask them to draw up the top 20 best college football programs in the country, I guarantee Wisconsin is on 99.9 percent of those ballots that you gather. That makes it a special place from a football standpoint."