The Badgers formally announced the signing of 24 recruits – 23 scholarship players and one walk-on – to national letters of intent Wednesday afternoon at the Kohl Center here. Wisconsin's class is ranked sixth in the Big Ten and No. 35 in the nation by Scout.com, but time will judge the true value of the Badgers' haul.
The motifs for the class, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said, are speed and versatility. Many players will be tried at multiple and positions and even the linemen can run relatively well.
Any way you look at it, though, Beckum is the crown jewel. An athletic 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Beckum played a variety of positions at Oak Creek. Scout.com has him ranked the No. 1 defensive end prospect in the country, but Beckum will begin his UW career as its sam linebacker, a position that plays up on the line of scrimmage, often like an end.
"That puts him on the edge and allows him to see things, to react to things," UW defensive coordinator and co-linebackers coach Bret Bielema said. "There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a very good defensive football player."
If he remains at sam Beckum will provide insurance for incumbent starter Mark Zalewski, who will be a junior in 2005.
"Zew did a good job for us this year but if he would have ever gotten hurt this year I really did not have another player I felt that would have the ability to play at this level," Bielema said.
Beckum was the type of rare prospect that could have literally gone anywhere to play college football. In a press conference at his high school Wednesday afternoon, Beckum reiterated that he chose the Badgers because of a desire to stay close to home, UW's success last year and the job its coaching staff did recruiting him.
"I love my mother," Beckum said, when asked why he wanted to stay close to his Milwaukee home.
Beckum was relieved to see the recruiting process come to its apex and an hour later and some 90 miles away Wisconsin's coaches were thrilled to call him a Badger.
"All the other colleges calling and stalking me, its good to finally know where you're going to college and get it all done and over with," Beckum said.
"He was key in this class," Alvarez said.
Co-linebackers coach Brian Murphy was the principle recruiter for Beckum, but all of the Badgers' defensive coaches played a role.
"I think it was very important for us to swarm him as a staff," said Bielema, who is entering his second year at Wisconsin. "Coach made it a priority, told me about him my first day on the job and basically just killed him with how much we wanted to have him in our program."
Bielema was another key to this recruiting class, his connections opening a door to talent-rich Florida with the signing of tight end Jae McFadden (6-3, 215) of Riviera Beach (Dwyer High School) and linebacker Elijah Hodge of Fort Lauderdale (Dillard). Bielema also recruited Broward County, Fla., at previous coaching stops at Iowa and Kansas State.
While at Iowa he recruited Elijah Hodge's brother Abdul, who is one of the Big Ten's best defensive players. Elijah Hodge (6-1, 205) is ranked the No. 16 linebacker prospect in the country.
Bielema stressed that all of the linebackers could play multiple linebacker positions, but Elijah Hodge and New Brunswick, N.J., product Jonathan Casillas (6-2, 210), will begin as will linebackers.
A pair of potential mike linebackers rounds out the harvest. Milwaukee Vincent's DeAndre Levy (6-3, 215) and O'Brien Schofield (6-3, 225) of Great Lakes, Ill. (North Chicago Community) are considered two the best prospects in the Midwest.
"Hopefully I'm going to come here and try to establish myself next year as a Wisconsin Badger," Levy said in a press conference at Vincent Wednesday morning.
Bielema said Wisconsin only needed two linebackers, but the talent available was too good to pass up – to a point. Bielema said the Badgers had to cut loose a potential recruit who ended up signing with Ohio State.
"I basically shared with Coach Alvarez that that's the most impressive list of linebackers that I've had in all my years recruiting as far as guys that were coming [for official visits]," Bielema said.
Alvarez said he expects about a half-dozen members of the class of 2005 to contribute as true freshmen. All of the linebackers have a shot.
"As well as they run, as physical as they are, they are intelligent; I would be surprised if they don't contribute," Alvarez said.
In addition to the linebackers, the best bet to play early may be Andy Kemp, a 6-6, 315-pound offensive tackle from Menasha, who has already enrolled at UW and will take part in spring practices. Another in-state lineman, Hudson's Eric VandenHeuvel (6-7, 340), also signed Wednesday.
"Both linemen are typical of our home-grown linemen," Alvarez said. "Guys that are physical, that are strong. You feel confident they are going to be strong contributors."
Wisconsin only tendered scholarship offers to four in-state prospects for this class and all four signed Wednesday. The Badgers also announced one walk-on: Appleton East kicker Matt Fischer.
—Drew Wagner contributed reporting to this story from Oak Creek