The Power of Aquinas

With eight high school seniors from Florida's St. Thomas Aquinas signing FBS offers Wednesday, including Madison-bound Conor O'Neill and Dezmen Southward, the ability for Wisconsin to establish a connection in Fort Lauderdale may prove beneficial in the future.

MADISON – Going back to the Barry Alvarez coaching years, it is without question the University of Wisconsin can recruit its own state.

With no other high-profile program inside the state border to contend with and no school in the surrounding states that can match Wisconsin's recent winning record, the Badgers have successfully built a high fence around Wisconsin's borders, keeping other schools out and the blue-chip recruits (like John Clay, Josh Oglesby and Joe Thomas) in.

But like a greedy neighbor, Wisconsin sees something better out there and they are trying to extend its property.

Since Bret Bielema took over the reigns of the Badger football program, the fourth-year head coach has aggressively recruited the state of Florida. In four recruiting class, the Badgers have obtained 15 players, 11 of which are underclassmen, including 2009 signees David Gilbert (Oakland Park) Conor O'Neill (Fort Lauderdale) and Dezmen Southward (Fort Lauderdale).

The way the talent cycle is going, especially at Florida high school St. Thomas Aquinas, the Badgers better stick to the Sunshine State.

This past recruiting cycle, the state of Wisconsin turned out 12 players who committed to Football Bowl Subdivision schools. On St. Thomas Aquinas (the same school that produced O'Neill and Southward), the Raiders had eight players that signed a letter of intent to play in the FBS division on Wednesday and even more that signed with lower divisions.

That's right – the state of Wisconsin 12, St. Thomas Aquinas 8.

"We really have a great program with a winning tradition," O'Neill said. "There are a lot of good players on both sides of the football."

Last season, Aquinas finished the season 15-0, have won 24 straight games and were ranked No. 1 in the nation by numerous publications, including USA Today.

Aquinas outscored opponents 695-117 and allowed just two opponents to score more than 10 points. It wrapped up a perfect season with a 56-7 victory in the Orlando Citrus Bowl over then-No. 6 (nationally) Lakeland in the Florida 5A championship game, jumping out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and the game ended with a running clock.

The loss was the first ever by Lakeland in a state championship game, having gone 6-0 prior to that, including three straight wins over Aquinas from 2004-06. Now, the Badgers have started to tap into that success.

"On a national presence, it is good," Bielema said. "We've recruited South Florida for a long time and George Smith, who was the national coach of the year, will be the first to tell you … that there's a lot of great players that have come out of that high school. To have two starters on the defensive side of the football chose Wisconsin, when you have guys you are leaders and can win, there's usually a carry-over effect."

With the Badgers making bowl appearances in the state of Florida the past five seasons and with Aquinas possessing two running backs (Gio Bernard and James White), a quarterback (Turner Baty), a center (Brandon Linder) and two defensive backs (Cody Riggs and Brian Robinson) that are already gaining attention for the Class of 2010, the Badgers hope that white picket fence will continue to extend south.

"Anytime you get media coverage in a certain market, it's going to help with notoriety," said assistant coach Charlie Partridge, who is in charge of recruiting the state of Florida. "Kids see that and more kids know about us, which is always a good thing."

FBS Recruits from the State of Wisconsin


LB Tyler Dippel (6-5, 254), Hartford Union

OL/DL Travis Frederick (6-5, 315), Big Foot

OL Ryan Groy (6-5, 300), Middleton

DE Shelby Harris (6-3, 235), Homestead

DL Jordan Kohout (6-4, 265), Waupun

Bowling Green

LB Paul Swan (6-1, 212), Oconomowoc

Iowa State

LB A.J. Klein (6-2, 219), Kimberly

Northern Illinois

DL Zach Anderson (6-2, 285), Ladysmith

OL Jared Volk (6-4, 287), Arrowhead


K Jeff Budzien (5-11, 165), Arrowhead


DE Ben Gardner (6-4, 230), Homestead

Western Michigan

OL Greg Peterson (6-5, 265), Waukesha West

Recruits from St. Thomas Aquinas

WR Duron Carter (6-3, 185), Ohio State

C Jordan Cowart (6-2, 220), Notre Dame

WR Dwayne Difton (6-1, 180), Connecticut

OG Carlton Falconer (6-4, 200), Florida Atlantic

TE Gabe Holmes (6-5, 211), Purdue

LB Conor O'Neill (6-1, 195), Wisconsin

S Dezmen Southward (6-1, 200), Wisconsin

P Ben Turk (6-0, 185), Notre Dame

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