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4 things to know about Badgers football heading into February's National Signing Day
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4 things to know about Badgers football heading into February's National Signing Day

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The University of Wisconsin football program, with the best recruiting class in the program’s history already signed, isn’t likely to make a splash Wednesday on National Signing Day.

The Badgers’ 2021 class, which ranks 15th nationally per Rivals and 16th by 247Sports and ESPN, is their first top-20 recruiting class since internet recruiting rankings began. The class is third in the Big Ten, behind just Ohio State and Michigan.

So while Wednesday’s signing day isn’t likely to produce a major boost to the Badgers’ rankings, the team could add some walk-on talent as it continues to comb through possible transfer players as well.

Here are four things to know heading into National Signing Day:

1. A quiet day for UW

Why won’t the Badgers be active on the February signing day? Because they got their commits to sign in December. The Badgers had 21 recruits in UW’s 2021 class sign during the early signing period, which allowed the UW staff to turn their focus toward 2022 and 2023 recruiting.

UW signed one of its top recruits in the 2020 class — running back Jalen Berger — on the February signing day last year.

jalen berger mug

Berger

There may be some movement for UW in terms of walk-ons, especially for a specialist. Kicker Nate Van Zelst (Wilmette, Illinois), ranked a five-star prospect by Kohl’s Kicking, tweeted Tuesday that he committed to the Badgers, but it wasn't clear whether he'll be on scholarship or not. 

The last specialist to receive a scholarship from UW out of high school was punter Anthony Lotti.

Saeed Khalif, UW’s director of player personnel, said before the December signing period that because of the unique circumstances of the year — seniors being able to return and the unprecedented amount of players attempting to find new homes via transfer — it was in 2021 recruits’ best interest to sign then.

“I think that would be a strategic blunder if they waited till February,” Khalif said in December. “Holding out tells us that you don't have the level of commitment we're looking for and we have to shop immediately for that next guy.”

2. Badgers possibly in the transfer market

Despite Khalif’s insistence during the early period that the Badgers' roster is full, changes at a few position groups may push the program to look for a transfer recruit.

UW was rumored to be in the hunt for Markese Stepp, a running back who was transferring from Southern Cal, but Stepp is expected to sign with Nebraska this week. Finding an experienced running back to pair with Berger next season may be a priority for the program after Nakia Watson’s transfer and Garrett Groshek’s jump to the pros.

Berger projects to be the starting running back after making four starts this season. Behind him is a cadre of inexperienced options such as Isaac Guerendo, Julius Davis and three freshmen from the 2021 class — Jackson Acker, Loyal Crawford and Antwan Roberts.

Defensive end might be another position where the Badgers look for a transfer. Last season’s starters, Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand, won’t be back and junior Matt Henningsen is coming off an arm injury.

Khalif and new defensive line coach Ross Kolodziej have said recruiting standout defensive linemen is the hardest task on that side of the ball, so a player with experience elsewhere could be an option if one is available.

3. Some Badgers getting a head start

Seven of the Badgers’ 2021 recruits — one-third of the class — are early enrollees and already in classes and workouts.

Cornerback Al Ashford III, outside linebacker T.J. Bollers, inside linebacker Jake Chaney, defensive lineman Mike Jarvis, offensive lineman Riley Mahlman and tight end Jack Pugh already are on UW’s campus.

It’s unclear yet what spring practices will look like after last season’s practices were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that group gets the benefit of strength training and learning from teammates in meetings.

4. Few top prospects still undeclared

There won’t be many crown jewels of the recruiting class signing Wednesday.

Six of the top 100 prospects on 247Sports and ESPN’s rankings enter National Signing Day undeclared and just five of the top 100 ranked by Rivals haven’t signed.

Ohio State is projected as the frontrunner for five-star defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau (Bellevue, Washington), who is a top-six recruit in the country according to the three sites. Ohio State’s class is ranked second in the nation.

Four-star cornerback Avante Dickerson (Omaha, Nebraska) decommitted from Minnesota in late January and reportedly is deciding between Nebraska and Oregon. He’s a top-100 recruit in ESPN’s rankings.


Breaking down the Badgers' 2021 recruiting class

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