MADISON – One of the benefits of committing early for Kimberly (WI) offensive lineman Logan Bruss was seeing the 2017 Wisconsin recruiting class come together. The fourth commit of the class in late February, Bruss has visited Wisconsin numerous times since committing in February for camps, football games and simple visits and has gotten to know many of his future teammates.
And while the class is spread out over 10 different states and three time zones, Bruss has noticed a common thread among the tightly packed group that fits perfectly with Wisconsin’s mission statement.
“We’re a bunch of unselfish guys who are willing to do whatever it takes to win,” he said.
In the final hours ticking down to the beginning of national signing day, the Badgers aren’t on the front page of top recruiting classes. There are few marquee names and no recruits listed in the Scout 300.
A year after its 26-player class ranked No.23 in the country (the first top-25 class since Scout first started ranking classes in 2001), Wisconsin’s 16-person class sits tied for 54th and 12th in the Big Ten. Use the average star rankings and Wisconsin’s 3.0 star average is tied for 40th and 10th in the conference.
The numbers are more reflected on UW’s small class than the overall talent. Wisconsin typically doesn’t get the five-star prospects, but they get the ones who are willing to put in the time and effort to develop. So when one considers Wisconsin is 109-38 (.741) since the start of the 2006 season, seventh best in the country, without those top-25 recruiting classes, well, number be damned.
“Our class isn’t going to be the highest ranked, but we’ve got a bunch of guys who have got something to prove,” Austin (TX) Lake Travis receiver Cade Green said. “We’re just going to come in and work hard. All that matters is what you do in the end.”
The second recruiting class in which head coach Paul Chryst was in charge from start to finish, the coaching staff’s aggressiveness paid off early with 10 commitments by May 6, which included arguably landing their top quarterback, tight end and offensive line targets.
Port Washington (WI) offensive lineman Tyler Beach – the last of the four to commit in early April – believes that the early decisions will ultimately help the group’s chemistry.
“All of us are a close group, and I feel like that’s the most important thing an offensive line can have,” Beach said, who turned down offers from Arkansas, Michigan, Notre Dame and others to stay in-state. “You need everybody be on the same page and understand what we are doing. I feel like we have built that relationship. As the years go on and we start to come up on the depth chart, I feel like that’s going to be pretty useful and pretty cool that I’ll be playing with those guys.”
Beach lumped being able to pass protect for Sayville (NY) quarterback Jack Coan into the coolness factor. Committing in March over offers from Louisville, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska and others, Coan set Long Island career records for passing yards (9,787) and touchdown passes (128) while also rushing for 2,551 yards (6.54 average) and 33 touchdowns.
After Coan announced his commitment, Beach – who was still uncommitted at the time - went to the internet to watch highlight clips of him out of curiosity. Beach’s impression played a part in his decision.
“I think he’s a great player,” Beach said of Coan. “He’s one of the top quarterbacks and all the awards he’s got in the state of New York is just amazing. He’s racked up so many yards and touchdowns that it just makes you feel good as an offensive lineman that you have a quarterback with that much skill. That’s less mistakes out of him and less mistakes out of us.”
In addition to Coan, Chryst’s coaching staff was able to land high-level prospects from outside the Midwest. Wisconsin added two receiver prospects in Texas, cornerbacks in Florida and North Carolina and the nation’s top long snapper out of Arizona. It’s a sign that the Badgers – to a degree – can recruit nationally because of their tradition of winning and high academic background.
“Wisconsin is a really welcoming place,” Green said. “When people get here, they aren’t from Florida or New York or Wisconsin. When they get here they are all University of Wisconsin kids. They are all Badgers, and that’s what brings them together. There’s no separation; everything is one tight-knit group.”
But as the case has been since Chryst replaced Gary Andersen, Wisconsin’s recruiting foundation has been the in-state prospect. After adding two prospects following his hiring for the 2015 class and signing four last year, Chryst landed all six in-state prospects the staff offered.
Wildly considering the backbone of the program, keeping the best players in state is already a good sign for the future.
“We’re so close to each other, open to talk with each other and open to build these relationship even before we get to college,” De Pere defensive end Aaron Vopal said. “It was awesome having guys commit and bring them into our little family and get to know each other. I know some school’s commits don’t have the kind of relationships we have built over the past months. This is a group that has been together for a long time.”