MADISON - Isaiahh Loudermilk is aware of people’s perception on eight-man football. He’s also aware that most of the opinions people aren’t generally positive.
Although he may not appreciate what he hears about the style of play he competed in at Howard (KS) West Elk High School, Loudermilk does understand that he has the ability to continue proving those perceptions wrong with his play.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say eight man isn’t as good as 11; it’s not real football,” said Loudermilk. “If you play eight man, you won’t be as good compared to the ones who play 11-man football. I just think to myself it’s still football, you have less people, but the goal is still the same at the end of the day.”
Not surprisingly, no one has ever told the 6-7 Loudermilk to his face that eight man isn’t real football. If he ever wanted to name drop notable alumnus who played eight man in high school, Loudermilk has a good list to go off of, like Rashaan Salaam (1994 Heisman winner from Colorado), Gaines Adams (Clemson defensive end and fourth overall pick in 2007 NFL Draft), Chad Greenway (All-American linebacker at Iowa) and Iowa senior defensive lineman Drew Ott.
But Loudermilk – one of the 25 scholarship players in Wisconsin’s 2016 recruiting class - isn’t the type of person to name drop as evidence in order to win an argument. In reality, he’s the type of person who will respectfully listen before trying to educate. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll flip on the film.
“I would say it’s fast pace, there’s a lot of open space and obviously a lot less players, but if you break one tackle you are pretty much gone,” said Loudermilk, a first-team all-state selection last season by the Kansas Football Coaches Association. “There’s a lot of speed in the game and I like that. It is a real back-and-forth game. You have to bring it every time on defense. You can’t take a play off.”
As he prepared to go through the recruiting process, Loudermilk was preparing himself to be judged on a different scale by college coaches. After pulling in 12 power five conference offers, it is clear that college coaches didn’t care, as the tools Loudermilk displayed translate to any style.
“When I got my first few offers, I thought those schools were trying something new and didn’t know if they were truly interested in me,” said Loudermilk, who held offers from schools like Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oregon when he committed to UW January 7. “But when I got more and more offers I could see that my initial hesitations that I thought coaches might have about eight-man football were put at ease. I just kept working to show if there were any concerns by colleges that I could still play.”
The Badgers have not been known to recruit eight-man football players, but head coach Paul Chryst and his staff had no hesitation recruiting Loudermilk, getting him on campus for an October official visit that ultimately sealed the deal for the three-star prospect.
“When you’re looking at the film and evaluating it, there are some things that jump out,” Chryst said. “Size in Isaiahh jumps out, his athleticism; I remember seeing a couple of clips with just a big guy with balance and body control.
“I’ve been around and recruited some of the eight-man football (but) not at the skilled position. I think maybe that’s where it might be a little bit different, but as far as linemen, I think that there’s more than enough where you get an accurate evaluation.”
Kansas isn’t known for producing top end football talent (the only other Kansas native on Wisconsin’s roster is redshirt freshman Nick Thomas), especially in a state that thirsts for basketball. Like many kids in the state growing up, basketball was Loudermillk’s first love. He’s pretty good at it too, averaging 19.2 points, 14.7 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game to earn first-team all-state honors as a junior.
“Basketball helps me a lot; I’ve always played it and was my first passion,” he said. “When I was little the goal was to play college basketball, but I’ve grown to love football a lot, too. Basketball has helped me with my footwork and speed, as you have to be able to move on your feet well in both sports. Basketball has helped me get off the line faster to get leverage.”
That footwork helped him registered 97 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and five touchdowns receptions last season, leading his high school team to a 10-1 record and the first playoff win in school history. In every conservation he had with the Wisconsin staff, Loudermilk said the talk centered about his abilities, never anything negative about his brand of football.
“Like I told him in the process, don’t let anyone tell you this, ‘just because you are eight-man football you don’t belong,’” said receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who recruited Loudermilk. “You belong. When you see how well this big young man moves around, we are very, very excited about him.”
There will be certainly be a period of adjustment for Loudermilk. He admits his first order of business is to breakdown a lot of film to learn the scheme, adjust to the practices and improve the technique. He’s also curious as to how high his ceiling will be on Wisconsin’s defensive line.
“I’m really excited … to see where I start my career as a football player coming from eight-man to where I end up as a player by the time my career ends,” said Loudermilk. “I know I’m going to improve a lot and that is really exciting.”