Staying committed

UW hopes for smooth transition in recruiting; current commits maintaining verbal pledges

MADISON — One of the many reasons University of Wisconsin football coach/athletic director Barry Alvarez named his successor Thursday was that he feared the program would "lose a recruiting season" if the decision was left blowing in the wind.

Alvarez's rationale is logical enough. If he waited until after the season to announce his retirement from football coaching, or if he made the announcement prior to the season but did not tab the next Badger coach, UW's recruits for the class of 2006 would be stuck wondering what would come next. Some might re-open their recruitment and choose to sign elsewhere next February.

With defensive coordinator Bret Bielema lined up as the 2006 UW football coach, though, the Badgers hope to head off those concerns.

"One of the main reasons that I'm making this announcement today is to keep the momentum in recruiting," Alvarez said at his press conference Thursday afternoon. "We're off to a very good start and have a number of recruits committed. I think… by having the luxury of maintaining continuity within our staff it allows us to not lose a recruiting season but to move right into a recruiting season and to have an outstanding one."

Bielema will add recruiting coordinator to his job duties this season to help ease the transition. UW will also benefit from the fact that Bielema, while the head coach in waiting, will still be an assistant coach through this recruiting season. That is important because Division I-A head football coaches can only make one off-campus visit to a prospect. Schools are allotted six off-campus recruiting contacts per prospect and Bielema, as an assistant, could conceivably make all six of them.

"Recruiting will focus on our primary areas," Bielema said. "Obviously the state of Wisconsin is our No. 1 goal, our No. 1 priority and that will continue as long as I'm here at the University of Wisconsin."

Eight student-athletes have made verbal commitments to UW for the class of 2006. Bielema, however, said Thursday that the Badgers have seven commitments, and Alvarez said the team expected to receive an eighth soon. NCAA rules forbid coaches from commenting on recruits until they have signed letters of intent, but statements that acknowledge the number of commitments are permitted.

"It's kind of surprising because I didn't even know," said Dan Sheeran, a wide receiver at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y. "I don't really think it affects me too much because it's not going to affect my decision obviously. It would have been cool to be able to play under him but it's not really going to change anything."

Of the eight previously reported commitments, Sheeran is one of six reached for comment after Alvarez's announcement. All said that Alvarez's decision had no impact on their plans. That list includes Sturgeon Bay, Wis., left tackle Jake Bscherer; Cleveland Glenville wide receiver Daven Jones; Monona Grove right tackle Gabe Carimi; Agoura, Calif., wide receiver/kicker JT Wright; and Camdenton, Mo., tight end Mickey Turner.

The Badgers' other two commitments are Hopkins, Minn., wide receiver/cornerback Isaac Anderson and St. Paul, Minn., wide receiver/cornerback Kim Royston. [Editor's note: The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Saturday that Royston is a 'soft commit' now, according to his father.]

"I wasn't surprised," Carimi said of Alvarez's decision. "I figured he was going to be leaving the head coaching position since he had the [athletic director job]. I figured he wasn't going to be there while I was playing anyway."

Bscherer found out when his friend Josh Oglesby, a junior-to-be offensive tackle at St. Francis (Wis.) High School, called him. Oglesby has already received scholarship offers from programs such as Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Wisconsin.

"It definitely surprised me but all the other coaches are staying, like [offensive line coach Jim] Hueber and that's really what's important to me," Bscherer said. "Bret Bielema's a real good guy. I talked to him and I think he'll do a great job. And definitely it's not changing my commitment at all, to the Badgers."

Though Bielema declined to comment on the future of his coaching staff Thursday, Turner was also under the impression that UW is looking to retain its assistants.

"The coaches called me and told me before the press conference about everything," Turner said. "They just said that all the other coaches are staying as far as they know and the system isn't going to change greatly. I'm OK with it."

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