Bielema reels in first recruiting class

Transition created long hours for coaches, and plenty of variety for recruits

MADISON—Kim Royston played host to a revolving door of Badger coaches this year. A highly recruited cornerback from Minneapolis, Royston was one of 23 prep football players who faxed over national letters of intent to the University of Wisconsin Wednesday.

Royston has known for a long time that he was going to sign with the Badgers. He verbally committed in late June, about a month before then-UW head football coach Barry Alvarez announced that he would step aside at the end of the 2005 season.

At that point, Royston had not had much interaction with defensive coordinator Bret Bielema, Alvarez's chosen successor. He had been recruited primarily by co-linebackers coach Brian Murphy. In the months to come, as Bielema formulated plans for—and then began hiring—his staff, Royston's primary recruiter switched from Murphy to offensive line coach Jim Hueber and then to new defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks.

"It's been different, you know, but the one constant has been Bielema," Royston said in a telephone interview. "And that's who I'm going to be playing (for) ultimately."

Royston's commitment wavered ever so slightly after Alvarez's announcement last fall, but he was reassured after meeting with Bielema.

"I'm expecting a real up-beat, intense (atmosphere)," Royston said. "(I'm) not saying they didn't have that before. But maybe just a new flavor to not only the football team but the college too."

Bielema, whose first contractual day as head football coach coincided with Wednesday's national letter of intent signing day, drew rave reviews from the newest Badgers.

"I think they did it the right way," said Brandon Hoey, a 6-5, 290-pound defensive tackle from Shoreview, Minn. "They're trying to start all over but with the same style of coaching. They're trying to build the best team possible and you have to expect that out of a high-caliber coaching staff."

Royston's tale was not unique. Several prospects dealt with several UW recruiters, a product of the fact that only two of Alvarez's assistants have been retained on Bielema's first staff. Yet, Bielema kept all of the pre-Alvarez-announcement commits that he sought.

"The thing that I like about it is that shows they're committed for the right reasons," Bielema said. "They found a school that they believe in, a program that they entrust. Hopefully had a little bit of confidence in myself."

Bielema and UW's other "constants", wide receivers coach Henry Mason and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, had to carry a hefty burden in recruiting, crisscrossing the country and making a plethora of phone calls to prospects.

Said Mason: "One week I got started in Fort Lauderdale. I was (in) Miami. I went to St. Louis. I went to Kansas City. I went to Cleveland. I went to Detroit. That was like Monday to Thursday. That's what we've had to do."

Bielema has guided UW's recruiting efforts ever since Alvarez's July announcement, and he has effectively been the acting head coach since the evening of Jan. 2, after the Badgers wrapped up their season with a Capital One Bowl win over Auburn.

One of the presumed benefits of Bielema officially remaining an assistant coach was that he would be able to make more in-person visits to prospects, per NCAA rules. Logistically, however, that proved impossible for Bielema, who was also harvesting his first coaching staff. He only visited one prospect more than once.

"It definitely wore us down a little bit," Bielema said.

Two of Bielema's new assistants—Cooks and co-defensive coordinator Dave Doeren—had a significant impact on UW's signing class in a short period of time.

In his first weekend on the job, Cooks secured verbal commitments from two players he had previously recruited while the defensive backs coach at Minnesota: Euless, Texas cornerback Jay Valai, who de-committed from Iowa, and Everman, Texas quarterback Maurice Moore.

Doeren had not spent much time at his new position when he picked up Ricky Garner's highlight tape. He liked what he saw in the 6-5, 225-pound defensive end from Pasadena, Calif., and, after getting the OK from Bielema, he flew out and offered Garner a scholarship.

Next week? Next week the staff has off.

Crooks, Beckum to play tight end

Bielema said Wednesday that junior to-be Andy Crooks and sophomore Travis Beckum will play tight end in 2006.

Crooks started five games at middle linebacker as a true freshman, but played sparingly last season. He was originally recruited as an H-back style tight end.

A year ago, Beckum was a high school All-American linebacker and the No. 1 ranked defensive end prospect in the country. He was a backup linebacker and end at UW as a true freshman, but requested the switch to tight end in hopes of more playing time. The Badgers' top three tight ends last year were seniors.

Jeff Stehle, who redshirted as a freshman defensive tackle last year, has been moved to the offensive line.

Medical waiver

Bielema said he accepted the commitment of St. Louis wide receiver/cornerback Niles Brinkley after the UW medical staff cleared him, a diagnosis that is permitted under NCAA rules if a recruited prospect signs off on the examination.

Bielema declined comment on Brinkley's injury, but in an interview in November, Brinkley said he missed the first four games of his senior season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove a calcium buildup in his knee.

Brinkley was's 69th ranked cornerback prospect in the nation, but the injury scared off potential suitors. Without the UW offer, Brinkley likely would have ended up at Southeast Missouri State.

Top of the line

Wisconsin's highest rated signees were both in-state prospects. Milwaukee King's Lance Kendricks is's No. 12 wide receiver in the nation. Sturgeon Bay's Jake Bscherer is's No. 22 offensive line prospect in the nation.

Format change

Bielema said UW's spring practices will run over a continuous four-week period, culminating with the spring game April 22. In the past, Alvarez typically split spring workouts in half, with UW's spring break in the middle.

Coming soon

UW still needs to hire three assistant coaches—in theory for running backs, tight ends and defensive line. Bielema expects two of those positions to be filled by early next week, with the third probably coming the following week.

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