MADISON - Millburn (NJ) Senior’s Jake Pickard pledged his commitment to Wisconsin in late July, with his high school teammates by his side, after being wooed by the campus and opportunities the Badgers football program presented.
Over three months later, Pickard finally returned to his future college for his official visit, a trip he said was well worth the wait.
“It was actually awesome, just driving around before the game and see everybody tailgating,” Pickard told BadgerNation. “Once we got there, even with it being after Thanksgiving, the stadium was packed and had a lot of support from all the fans. Even when we were getting down, the fans energy stayed up, which kept the team’s energy up. It was an unreal environment to be around.”
Arriving on his official visit Friday, Pickard spent a good team of time watching film with defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a, showing him film of where Pickard could fit in on the defense and how his skill set can help the program.
“It really blew me away,” said Pickard. “It seems so simple on the outside, but it’s so intricate.”
That made sitting and watching the group work Saturday all that more exciting. Pickard – rated a three-star recruit by Scout.com - has watched the Badgers and their defense from afar all season long, noting how the group continues to develop after appearing to catch on so quickly at the beginning of the season.
“Those guys stick to their game plan,” said Pickard. “We kind of got down in the beginning of the game, the first quarter and first half or so, but Coach Aranda knew that his game plan was going to work. The boys stuck to it, didn’t really do their own thing and kept attacking when they’re supposed to. In the end the numbers speak for themselves.”
“Aranda may not be a huge talker but when he does talk you’d better listen because he knows exactly what he’s doing,” he added. “(This defense) shows wonders what Aranda can do with one or two years. I am excited to see what he can do the next couple years.”
Pickard spent the weekend with four other official visitors and a handful of uncommitted prospects, the latter of which allowed him to continue talking about and selling the program.
“It was awesome to be able to finally meet those guys and hang out,” said Pickard. “I was with Nate Howard the most, just hanging out, and it was awesome to get to know him. Coach Andersen was very excited about us, knowing that we’re all solid commits and can glimpse into the future.
“I was talking Antonio Williams a lot. He was with us for a lot of it, so I talked to him. After the game I went up to Antonio and Christian Folau and said, ‘Where else do you want to be? There’s no other place in the world that offers the things that Wisconsin does!’”
The 6-6, 230-pound defensive end didn’t know a ton about the rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin coming into the weekend. He knew just as much about Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but getting a chance to be around the players in the postgame locker room signaled to him the important of tradition.
“Not only is it important to the community, but what it means to them and having it for 11 years straight is a crazy honor,” said Pickard. “I’m looking forward to continue that with my upcoming year. It’s crazy to see how excited they get, how proud they are and how much the fans get into it. Even 15 minutes after the game there were still thousands of fans watching the chop, cheering for the boys and keeping the energy really high.”
While the defense will still be young next season, the Badgers lose two seniors off the defensive line – Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski – and Pickard believes his remaining months at high school will help determine whether he can be an early contributor.
“Weight and muscle gain is all I’m focused on,” said Pickard. “I’m going to be working with my coach and private trainers, just putting as much good weight and muscle on as I can. Literally the one thing Coach Chad stressed is that he knew I could put on as much weight as I want but he wants me to keep my speed and flexibility up. Both he and Coach Andersen said they are looking at me to contribute my freshman year. The only thing stopping me from doing that is myself. I am going to be grinding every day because at the end of the day that’s what I want. I just am going to put the work in I need to do in order to do that.”