CHICAGO - All the problematic situations Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has encountered involving the 2014 recruiting class can be labeled as vastly different, but that doesn’t make them any easier when trying to put a finger on why they’ve happened.
In his first full recruiting cycle as Wisconsin coach, Andersen’s 26-member class ranked No.29 in the Scout.com recruiting rankings, but three of those kids - Dominic Cizauskas (arrest), Chris Jones (academics) and Dareian Watkins (personal)- are no longer a part of the program, while Jaden Gault (depression) likely won’t join the team in full capacity until the spring, at the earliest.
“It’s frustrating because I want them all here,” Andersen said on day one of Big Ten Media Days at the Hilton Chicago. “I want them to be a part of this team. I want to be involved in their lives and I don’t have that opportunity.”
The most trouble story comes from Cizauskas, a once-promising in-state linebacker who was convicted last month of third-degree sexual assault for the Dec. 14 incident at Sellery Hall, raping a woman in her dorm room in December while he was on a recruiting visit to the campus. Cizauskas now faces up to five years in prison and five years of extended supervision when he is sentenced next month.
“Kids are still going to make decisions,” said Andersen. “Do we have to put our arm around them 24-7 when they are on campus? That becomes very difficult. It’s a tangled web.”
Andersen believes Wisconsin’s procedures for official visits are “great,” which involves recruits signing a compliance form acknowledging the policies and procedures on campus. They also get a schedule of where they are going to go, what time they are supposed to be back in their rooms and a variety of other topics.
Andersen declined to get into the specifics of where the breakdowns occurred, but did say the situation forced Wisconsin to examine to study its policies and tweak where needed.
“It forces you to sit back and look at things when someone like that happens,” said Andersen.
The second hit to Wisconsin’s recent recruiting class came when word got out that Gault – a four-star offensive lineman from nearby Monona Grove – was taking a leave of absence after battling depression since enrolling in January. A former four-star recruit and a U.S. Army All-American, Gault was hospitalized as a precaution after having suicidal thoughts in early February, and again during the first week of March.
Gault is enrolled in classes for the fall semester but plans to redshirt the upcoming football season.
“The basic plan for Jaden is to get Jaden mainstreamed in school and support Jaden,” said Andersen. “We’re excited about that. We’re going to be at Jaden’s pace. My communication and talks with him the last little bit have been good.”
In a text message, Gault said he was excited about his progress over the last several months and was hopeful to get back into football shape in the coming weeks. Gault added that he was working with a psychiatrist and a psychologist on a weekly basis.
“I’m proud of the way he’s been battling,” said Andersen. “He decided to come out and talk about it, which is great. Hopefully that has helped some other people, too.”
Watkins’ reasons for not attending Wisconsin are equally as troubling. Watkins showed up on time for summer workouts in June but returned home when a friend picked him up a week later. After Wisconsin's coaches allowed Watkins back with the team if he returned in a week, Watkins returned only to leave a few days later.
Members of the Badgers' coaching staff then decided to part ways with Watkins, and Watkins has not communicated with them since.
“Dareian has not been released from his scholarship,” said Andersen. “We’re just trying to get things to where they need to be for him in life. Dareian will be in an OK spot. I really believe that.”
In a statement to BadgerNation, Heath Watkins, Dareian’s adopted father, said he wanted it to be known that Andersen and the coaching staff, “put forth a great amount of effort to help direct Dareian toward making good decisions. Our family is deeply saddened by the choices that Dareian is making. We are emotionally exhausted from this combined effort to help him.”
It was another big blow to the depth of the receiving group, especially after Andersen knew Jones was going to be unable to qualify at the school. Jones has since signed with Toledo.
“You sign a bunch of kids, they have to understand it’s Wisconsin, it’s hard to get into school, you’ve got to take care of your business,” said Andersen. “Once you get that done, you’re going to be very successful in life and the football. Unfortunately they didn’t all make it this year.”
Even with all the departures from the program, Andersen believes the Badgers will be close to having all 85 allotted scholarships filled by the start of fall camp, meaning those that have left the program have opened the door for some walk-ons to potentially get a scholarship offer.
He also stated that his recruiting approached hasn’t wavered despite losing three recruits to academics in his first two recruiting classes, especially if he feels strongly about them as people more so than players.
Just talk it up to a weird course of events that Andersen and his staff have already moved on from.
“Taking chances on kids is identified throughout the recruiting process first through the recruiting coach, understanding his support staff, understanding why he has deficiencies you would like to see improve,” said Andersen. “You look at and say we can get this done. We’ve said yes (and) we’ve gone through the recruiting process, got kids in position to get in school and it’s just not going to work out.
“You’ve got to understand kids, but you have to respect your university the best you can."