A Productive Label

Some programs and coaches wouldn't like it if people said their program was 'developmental.' Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen embraces it for his Badgers.

CHICAGO - During their secret meeting in a Minneapolis airport hotel last December, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told Gary Andersen that the Wisconsin football program was a "developmental program," stating a simple truth to possibly see how the long-time program builder would react to that sentiment.

If Andersen had any reservations about taking the Badgers' coaching job, that label that his new boss help create years ago erased all his doubts.

"That's something we said when we were at Utah and Utah State," said Andersen. "We took pride in it. That's not a knock on the program. That's who we are. We rely on those tough, multi-sport athletes who are raw, built them, mold them together and let them work hard. That's what Wisconsin is."

Walk-ons continue to be a big part of Wisconsin's program. Currently having 31 in-state current or former walk-ons in the program, it's been the Badgers' walk-ons that have grabbed the most headlines in the last several weeks.

Jared Abbrederis – a one-time walk-on from Wautoma who earned a scholarship because of his play - was one of three Wisconsin players representing the Badgers at the Big Ten preseason meetings, talking passionately about wanting to become a leader for a team going for a fourth straight championship.

Connor Senger – about to enter his first season from Milwaukee - was the most impressive player on the field in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association all-star game last weekend, throwing for 179 yards and four touchdowns and rushing a team-high 49 yards in a 47-19 victory over the North Large schools at UW-Oshkosh.

Andersen wasn't permitted to watch the all-star game, but said he got plenty of text messages about Senger, who has played his way into the 105-man fall camp roster because of his offseason work.

"Every time I walk by the quarterback room, there he sits watching film," said Andersen of Senger. "It's not like he's watching cartoons. He's really watching football. He gets it. It'll be fun to watch him and see what he does."

When Andersen arrived in December, he said two of his recruiting priorities were to recruit the state of Wisconsin aggressively and to reach out to every high school coach in the state.

While he's achieved part one, securing seven kids in the 2013 class and another six more in 2014, he's still in the process of reaching out to the over 400 high school coaches in the state.

"I've talked to a lot but to say I've come close to talking to all of them, I have not yet," Andersen said. "It's a work in progress."

Andersen has already sent one round of letters to the high school coaches and says he plans to do another round of letters shortly. He's also been a keynote speaker at the WFCA postseason banquet and spoken at coaching conventions. So far, he calls the way the organization runs its program "very impressive."

"You look at a high school and say, ‘Is football important?'" Andersen questioned. "Well you look at how many coaches do they have on campus, how many people are involved in the little league, how do you run your freshman program and is it the same as the varsity? It's set up like that almost all the time.

"That to me shows quality throughout a program, quality throughout the state. Trust me, it's not like that in a whole lot of areas."

That tradition was one of the selling points to Andersen about the Wisconsin job and one of the reasons Alvarez saw Andersen as such a viable candidate for Wisconsin.

Taught the value of the walk-on program by his mentor, Ron McBride, Andersen started with 18 in-state kids when he took over the Utah State program. When he left the in-state numbers were in the mid-50s, and now is coaching a program with 55 in-state players.

His walk-on program helped Utah State achieved heights never before experienced in the program. Now with a similar walk-on tradition at Wisconsin, imagine what Andersen can do.

"It's a powerful program," Andersen said of Wisconsin. "There are so many kids here that you can't take them. In Utah it's a little different because there are three division 1 programs … We're going to have kids leave every year that are go and say, ‘I told you so.' I am going to say, ‘You're right. I wish we would have taken him but we didn't.'"


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