The ink is dry on the national letters of intent and the fax machines are quiet. That must mean it’s time to put the 2016 recruiting class to bed and switch focus to the 2017 class, which will be able to first sign their binding letters on February 1, 2017.
While the end scholarship number will almost certainly change for Wisconsin, the Badgers sit with 15 scholarship seniors in the 2017 class and have already locked up two important targets in offensive lineman Kayden Lyles and defensive end Aaron Vopal.
Playing last season at Scottsdale (AZ) Saguaro high school with older brother Kare Lyles, who is currently a true freshman at Wisconsin, Kayden Lyles is already rated a four-star prospect and the No.98 prospect in the country by Scout.com. Committing October 1, he is moving with his family to the Madison-area this spring.
Vopal committed to the Badgers January 25 after being offered following an unofficial visit. A big bodied athlete at 6-8, Vopal can bend and move with ease, making him a nice early addition to the class.
But with plenty of other talented players leaving the program after 2016, we look at some of the high-profile 2017 prospects the Badgers are targeting who could replace them.
If Wisconsin plays its cards right, the program could have all its offensive line commits for the class done by the spring. Arguably the top prospect in the state for 2017, Tyler Beach is already ranked an early three-star prospect and holds seven scholarship offers, including power five offers from Illinois and Michigan. UW offered him in person Jan.23 during an unofficial visit to campus.
"They said they are extremely excited about me and that I'm a perfect fit in their system," Beach said to Scout. "I'm humbled and honored at the same time to receive it. It's great having such a great school so close."
Beach is tremendously talented and impressed scouts at the U.S. Army All-American combine in January. He’ll spend the spring visiting schools.
Another name to watch is Kimberly’s Logan Bruss, who was offered the same day as Beach. Bruss has offers from Buffalo and North Dakota State but called the Badgers his “dream offer.” It’d be surprising if he wasn’t in UW’s 2017 class.
The younger brother of Wisconsin junior Joe Ferguson and the grandson of Barry Alvarez, Jake Ferguson was offered by Wisconsin this past April and is a big bodied athlete at 6-5 and 200 pounds. For Madison Memorial he was used as a receiver, inside linebacker and punter last season, an indication of how athletic he is. We have him listed as a three-star outside linebacker but he could develop into a number of positions in college. He has since added an offer from Iowa but the Badgers are the solid pick here.
With Wisconsin losing three scholarship tailbacks (Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Serge Trezy) after the season, running back will be of the upmost importance in 2017. The Badgers have already made an early impression on Ivory Kelly-Martin, who holds six offers and lists Wisconsin as one of his top schools.
“Being a running back at Wisconsin is like being the star of the team,” he said. “They put so much emphasis on their run game … So me being a running back, that's really important because I want the ball and to be able to show my talents.”
One of three tailbacks who claim an offer from UW, Kelly-Martin visited the Badgers for their night game against Hawaii in September.
"The game was great and the atmosphere was amazing," he said. "Even walking from my car to the stadium was exciting. Being able to see all the fans out in the streets and tailgating getting ready to cheer on their favorite football team was great. The fans during the game was awesome as well, whether it being the wave or the traditional 'Jump Around' I had lots of fun."
After signing three raw prospects in 2016, receiver will again be an important position for Wisconsin to recruit to in 2017. The Badgers have already made an early impression on Ricky Smalling, a four-star prospect who was just placed in the early Scout 300.
Smalling visited the Badgers for their home game against Iowa back in October and saw them again when they played at Illinois as a guest of the Illini. UW is hopeful that they can get him on campus during the summer, possibly for a camp.
"It was nice," Smalling said of his visit. “The atmosphere was great. The student section had a lot of energy and that was great. I like the coaches. We still have to keep building our relationship, but I like what I've seen so far."
Another name to watch is Walled Lake (MI) Western’s Cody White. White is up to 10 offers but Wisconsin was one of the first schools to offer him and ranks them quite high on his early list.
Wisconsin nabbed quarterback Kare Lyles in mid-March last season. UW likely won’t be that fortunate in this recruiting cycle, but the Badgers have already made a favorable impression on three-star Lindell Stone out of Woodbury Forest, Virginia.
“The offer (from Wisconsin) definitely means a lot,” said Stone, which came last month. “It’s a great school with a great football program. They’re in the Big-Ten, too, and that’s big-time football. They also had a great season last year. Madison is a great place and it’s somewhere I definitely want to check out.”
Wanting to make a commitment before the start of his senior season, Stone will have a busy summer and already holds offers from Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia and West Virginia. Stone said UW graduate assistant Jon Budmayr – a former UW quarterback - is the one who made the initial call.
“We had a great conversation,” said Stone. “It was just good talking to him about Wisconsin football and the school. I’m looking forward to developing a relationship with him.”
Pete Werner is out of Indianapolis and has over a dozen offers, including the one from the Badgers which came on an unofficial visit in the fall.
"The trip to Madison was great,” he said. “Madison is a cool city, and the fans love the football team. The academic reputation of a school is as important to me as the football program, and I saw in an article that Wisconsin is ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten academically. I took a tour of the facilities and could see that they take very good care of their football players on the field and in the classroom. I was impressed."