They’ve also had time to cruise the internet and see handfuls of Badgers fans hit a boiling point with where Paul Chryst’s first full recruiting class stood through the first couple weeks of June. And while fans were jumping to conclusions about Chryst and his assistant’s ability to recruit, Williams and Lyles never got nervous.
“We just want to get guys the coaches handpicked for us to get, the guys that have the same traits and desires that we have” said Lyles. “We all want to be successful.”
It’s hard to argue that the Badgers have been anything but in the month of June by adding seven commitments to their 2016 recruiting class. Break it down even farther, starting with offensive lineman Patrick Kasl’s commitment on June 12, Wisconsin accepted verbal commitments from six prospects in eight days, the majority of whom had impressive offer lists.
“I’m not surprised at all because I know with the past history and success of Wisconsin that it was only a matter of time before guys like the ones we’re getting this year started realizing Wisconsin is the real deal,” said Williams. “I feel like me being the highest ranked guy out of the group and committing first that it set the tone for who we can get in this class, who we are capable of getting and just build off of it.”
That message was reinforced last Saturday. In one of the bigger recruiting days in recent memory for the Badgers, Wisconsin landed a pair of four-star prospects – in-state lineman Cole Van Lanen (ranked as the top tackle in the state and top 20 in the country) and defensive back Craig Watts (the first four star prospect UW has ever signed out of Florida).
“We’ve got some great guys that all have the same goals, the same focus and drive that me and Antonio have,” said Lyles. “Cole’s commitment got me completely off guard. With Craig, before that Wisconsin visit, I thought we had no chance with him. All of a sudden (safety commit) Seth Currens messaged me that we got another safety. It was a great eight days.”
Williams has been one of more active recruiters on social media for Wisconsin, not shy about reaching out to players across the country who have Wisconsin offers to tell them about the program. With himself having an offer list of Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, Ohio State and many other top level programs, Williams said he uses the fact that he picked Wisconsin over those schools to validate the Badgers’ place in the college football hierarchy.
“I just show people that even though I had those offers, they are not Wisconsin,” said Williams, a four-star prospect ranked the No.14 tailback in the country by Scout.com. “The amount of talent the coaching staff is bringing in, I feel like that’s what Wisconsin deserves. Why not Wisconsin?”
Lyles represents the other half of the spectrum, as he was only a two-star recruit with a single offer at the time of his commitment. Since making his pledge in March, he’s added another star to his name, generated more interest from power five conference schools and feels confident being a leader of the UW group.
“Our group is perfect,” said Lyles. “You have guys like Antonio, Craig and Cole who are high-profile guys who are four stars and everybody is looking at them saying ‘wow, they picked Wisconsin.’ Then you have the in-state guys like Luke (Benzschawel), Mason (Stokke) and Tyler (Biadasz), representing a great crop of local players. Then you have guys like me who had a single offer. Our group is so well rounded and as we interact with other recruits, we can tell our own stories of our background of what led us to Wisconsin. We all have that same belief that Wisconsin is the best college in the nation.”
Before the Badgers’ run of recruiting hits, Wisconsin ranked in the mid-60s in the Scout recruiting rankings and were hovering around programs like Ball State, Colorado State, Toledo and Tulane. Now Wisconsin sits at 26 and poised to add more talent in the coming weeks.
The overreaction from the fans a few weeks ago was expected but Williams never worried.
“You understand the fans; they want to see things happen immediately,” said Williams. “That’s the way the game is fan wise, but the coaches and us the recruits/commits understand how it goes and timing can be your biggest helper, which is what is happening right now.”
Unlike in past years where the bond between classmates comes after they arrive in the summer, the 2016 class is following the lead of the 2015 class by having a giant group chant over the phone and social media to build chemistry and talk about expectations.
“We’re getting to know each other personally and realizing who has certain personalities,” said Williams. “Every now and then somebody will stay something stupid to get everyone laughing, which is usually me, but we’ll get really serious and talk about being what we want to be and going after that national championship. I honestly feel with the class we’re getting that after this year’s class, people seeing this class come together like it is, I feel like the classes after us can keep that tradition of higher ranked recruits coming to Wisconsin. I feel like we have that potential.”
As the news started to roll in on Saturday, Lyles and Williams both took the social media to proclaim a national championship has become one of the sole focuses for the group. It’s beyond lofty expectations considering the Badgers have never played in a BCS national championship game, let alone are rarely in the conversation for one.
But as the group chat gets bigger with more talented prospects joining the fold, the confidence continues to build among a group of recruits ready to change the culture.
“I feel we’re the most confident group we could ever be,” said Lyles. “Our goals are off the chart. We hold ourselves to a high standard. We want that national championship, and we’re going to work for it when we get in. Our drive and our focus when we come in, I believe it’s going to be probably the best class we’ve had in a long time, because we text each other and motivation each other every day … and we haven’t even met each other in person yet. Once we get on the field together, our connection will be even better.”