It is starting to become an embarrassment of riches for Wisconsin. Signing two highly-touted prospects from two powerhouse high schools (Stevenson from Dallas South Oak Cliff and Shaw from Hoover (AL) HS), running back coach Thomas Brown recognizing that the running back room has gotten a whole lot stronger.
“I’m all about competition,” said Brown. “I don’t want 10 running backs on the roster, but I think it is good to have five, six guys that can compete and push each other. I just know from a firsthand stand point playing the position, even if you’re self-motivated, you’re going to push yourself so far.”
Stevenson is the third four-star tailback to sign with Wisconsin over the last four years (Vonte Jackson and Corey Clement). Although Stevenson has shown to be able to bounce runs to the outside, he also is capable of running up the middle between the tackles. Stevenson shows good patience and vision as he waits for a hole to open up and has good feet to be able to cutback. He also has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, a critical aspect of the Badgers’ offense, meaning he’ll set up favorable downs for the team on a run or a pass play.
“Jordan brings some explosive big play ability, but I also think he surprises some people when he turns the tackle,” Brown said. “People label him as a small back (5-9) but he isn’t small. He’s like 210. He’s my height. They say he’s short, maybe, but he’s not small at all. He’s a physical runner.”
Originally committing to Texas in fall of 2013, Stevenson take an official visit to Wisconsin in late September and shocked everyone by committing to Wisconsin one day after Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. Not only did Stevenson show a lot of faith that Wisconsin was going to find the right head coach, Stevenson made it was clear that his commitment to Wisconsin was for the tradition, facilities and education, not due to the head coach.
It was a great victory for Brown to land the signatures of Stevenson and Shaw, but the first minor victory in their recruitment came when the two came on official visits to Wisconsin on September 26 for the game against South Florida. It was a game where the two saw the rushing attack for Wisconsin rush for 294 yards and two touchdowns.
“Watching Melvin (Gordon) this past year was huge and getting those guys up for a trip was huge,” Brown said. “Melvin spending time with them, Corey spending some time with them and sharing their experiences with them outside of football made a huge impact.”
Although the two needed some convincing on why they should choose Wisconsin, Shaw needed a little more convincing on why he should leave SEC country.
“We started recruiting Shaw last spring and initially he was very adamant about wanting to stay in the south, like most of the guys do and play in the SEC,” said Brown. “He even came out and made that statement that he wanted to be an SEC tailback. I think it was huge for him to see the bigger opportunity here, what we had to offer and kind of leave home, trust the process to come here and be great here.”
Helping lead Hoover to a third straight state title in December, Shaw will add his winning mentality to what has already been established in Wisconsin. Like Stevenson, Shaw has the ability to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, meaning both players add multiple dimension to the offense that will create multiple wrinkles for opposing defenses.
“Bradrick is the more pro-typical back from a size standpoint; he’s 6-1, probably 205 now and he’s a no-nonsense, one-cut, down-hill runner,” Brown said. “I like having different guys in the running back room, it helps you be more versatile on offense and helps keeps guy happy because you can find roles for everybody.”
One aspect both will likely need to work on is their pass blocking ability, something all freshmen running backs struggle with a little when they step foot on campus because they aren’t necessarily required to take on an incoming defender in high school. If either one show they can consistently take steps in this area, they could see the field early on in their careers.
It is the second consecutive year Wisconsin has signed two running backs in a recruiting class. Both Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw redshirted a year ago, and it’s likely either Stevenson or Shaw will redshirt this year. Shaw may be the likely candidate just because his physical style is similar to both Clement and Deal. Stevenson could be the change-of-pace back who will have a chance to bust a long run with the defense wearing down over the course of the game.
With Wisconsin signing two talented running backs, the Badgers need to have a good fullback in front of them to open up alleys. Wisconsin didn’t have to go far to find Jake Whalen from Wausau West High School. On his film it is clear that Whalen likes to hit due to his experience as a linebacker, which will translate well to the fullback position. Whalen has also demonstrated the ability to catch the football and he should be able to have a productive career for Wisconsin.
Whalen will likely redshirt with two scholarship fullbacks currently on the roster. There’s also the chance that the Badgers will re-evaluate him and move him back to linebacker, but this was a good land for Wisconsin in the days leading up to signing day.
Signing Day Grade: A