The decision of who will be the University of Wisconsin’s kicker next season won’t be made until late in fall camp.
That was made clear Friday by special teams coordinator Chris Haering. But he also let it be known that the winner of the competition between senior Collin Larsh and sophomore Jack Van Dyke will have earned the job; it won’t be given out by default.
“Both of them, I think, mentally are in a good place,” said senior punter Conor Schlichting, who is the holder in the kicking operation. “They're both confident, they both are competitive. They feel going into every kick that they're the best kicker here. That's how it should be.”
Larsh has been the Badgers kicker since the start of the 2019 season, going 17 of 25 on field goals in his career. He’s 15 of 18 on tries inside 40 yards and 2 of 7 from 40 or more, and has made all but one of 77 point-after attempts.
Van Dyke joined the team last season and served as the kickoff specialist, but hasn’t attempted a place-kick yet.
Last Saturday, the Badgers’ last spring practice that was open to reporters, Van Dyke made a 35-yard kick from the left hash and a 46 yarder from the right hash early in practice. Larsh tried the same kicks and made the first. Later in the morning, Van Dyke was good from 36 twice and 43, while Larsh made his only attempt from 33 yards out.
Both struggled at practice April 10, missing multiple kicks inside 40 yards.
Haering said the winner will being making kicks in practice, but also performing well in side drills and other kicking opportunities. His belief is that one player will win the position and the job won’t be split into one handling shorter kicks and the other going for longer tries.
“Yes, making more kicks in practice (matters),” he said.
“We chart everything, we chart what they do when they're kicking with just the operation working, and then we also chart those team reps. A very important part of it, too, is when we go red zone scrimmaging offense versus defense, and we get into those field-goal situations, trot those guys out there and see who can function with that kind of pressure on. So it's really a holistic approach, all of it counts.”
Larsh, a Monona Grove High School product, said he’s reached out to former NFL kicker John Carney for advice on how he can supplement the training he’s doing with UW to add leg strength. Larsh has added certain power lifts to his regimen, as well as extra flexibility and swing-pattern work.
“It's a business, is what a lot of people don't understand at this level. The person who's best at the job is going to do it,” Larsh said. “You can't be thinking about that stuff before kicks, after kicks.
“Me and Jack are pushing each other every day to get better. Me and him are good friends off the field, too, so I mean, it's nice to not have the animosity towards each other through it all and be able to support each other and help each other out.”
Van Dyke, who hails from Neenah, shared a similar sentiment to his relationship with Larsh. He said he’s ready for the months-long position battle and is focusing on maintaining his confidence throughout the process.
“For me, mostly it's just treating every kick the same,” Van Dyke said. “Whether I’m kicking a PAT or I'm backing up to 51 in the rain, like everything is going to be the same. And then another thing I've been focusing on, especially during spring ball, is having the right mindset every morning. So when I wake up in the morning, I get out of bed, I choose to have a good day. It's a choice every day.”
Two returners back
With the returns of senior receivers Danny Davis and Jack Dunn, the Badgers have two of their most frequent punt returners of the past two seasons ready. Add in sophomore cornerback Dean Engram, who handled the most punts in 2020, and UW has a number of options.
They’ll all likely see time if the Badgers’ trend of deploying two punt returners continues. Most full punt return drills during spring practices have had two returners deep, a tactic that Dunn says allows UW to protect itself from losing hidden yardage.
“A lot of that kind of just depends on what type of punt unit we're going up against,” Dunn said. “We've got a lot of guys in our conference and non-conference opponents we play that obviously do a lot of rugby-style punts. So when you put two returners back there, it makes it a lot more difficult for them to just spray it around the field and get that extra roll from it landing on the ground.
“You can save a lot of hidden yardage just by staying in front of a ball or catching it and getting a fair catch and keeping it from rolling, especially against teams like that. So I think that gives us a little bit of flexibility."
Receivers Devin Chandler and Stephan Bracey will also be in the mix as punt and kick returners, Haering said.
Adding a snapper
Sophomore Peter Bowden will replace Adam Bay as the Badgers’ long-snapper next season, but the lack of depth behind him is a concern.
Haering said that freshman Duncan McKinley tore his ACL early in spring practices and won’t be available this fall. Junior linebacker Marty Strey has been snapping during practices to provide an emergency option, but Haering — one of the Badgers’ lead recruiters, especially for in-state prospects — said the program will look to add another snapper to the 2021 recruiting class this summer.
For now, Bowden has been a steady presence in the snapping role.
“Pete's done a tremendous job. Adam’s going to be big shoes to fill, but Pete can do it,” Haering said. “And the nice thing that Pete has the advantage of being two years into the program and getting a lot of reps even though he wasn't playing on Saturdays in the fall.”
Breaking down the Wisconsin Badgers 2021 recruiting class by position
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Deacon Hill (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Quick analysis: Hill has a strong arm and shown enough in camps to rise to a four-star recruit on Rivals. Competition level is a question mark at the high school level, but he’s got the tools to be a good college quarterback.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Hill: Quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr “identified him really early. We thought he had great arm strength when you compared him to the best players in the country who were out there. We thought he was right there from the jump. … We really liked him, we felt personality-wise the people that surrounded him and supported him, how he worked, all those things were a great fit for us.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Jackson Acker (Madison), Loyal Crawford (Eau Claire), Antwan Roberts (Nashville, Tenn.)
Quick analysis: There’s been talk about Acker switching positions at the college level, but UW listed him as a running back Wednesday. Acker didn’t play in the fall due to COVID-19, but he has shown a good mix of speed and power as a ball carrier. … Crawford has a James White-level ceiling as a third-down back and the most shiftiness of the bunch. … Roberts has explosion and proven ability to run through tackles.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re all kind of unique. Jackson’s a guy that obviously would have position flexibility, but he kind of is explosive. … Then you see Loyal, and Loyal’s got great speed, great change of direction, a chance for a home run hitter. I think he’s got great quicks in and out and, again, I think all these guys, we’ll find out exactly where they’re at when they come in, but I think guys that are just really good football players as well. … Antwan, what he does to this point, complete back and had a great senior year.”
Number of players: 2
Who are they: Skyler Bell (Bronx, N.Y.), Markus Allen (Clayton, Ohio)
Quick analysis: The Badgers landed two players who possess good speed and agility at arguably the biggest position of need in the class. … Bell has a suddenness to his cuts that makes him dangerous as a receiver and returner. … Allen shows good ball skills when making contested catches and great body control.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Bell, who wasn’t able to visit campus before committing: “I just think you take the time to reach out. Whether it was Zoom meetings with him and his family, or whether it was phone calls, you took the time to be able to answer questions that pop up in their minds. I think those things are always huge.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Jack Pugh (Columbus, Ohio)
Quick analysis: He has long strides that help him cover a lot of ground and he’s shown an array of route-running skills from both an on-line and split-out positions.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Pugh: “Jack played his first year of football last year. This was his second year. Really a guy that was a hoop player that jumped into it. Watching his film, I thought he was really physical for a guy that hadn’t played football. He was physical at D-end as well as tight end. I think he’s got the ability to separate. I think he’s got really a lot of speed and explosiveness.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: JP Benzschawel (Grafton), Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.), Nolan Rucci (Lititz, Pa.)
Quick analysis: The Badgers are set up to continue churning out great O-lines for years to come after an impressive haul of linemen in 2019. … Benzschawel is the third of his brothers to come to UW, and he’s shown great power and strength as a blocker. … Mahlman might be the most athletic of the bunch, having played tight end for a time in high school and as a basketball standout. … Rucci, the lone five-star recruit in the class, has all the tools to become an All-American tackle.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re big, athletic guys that you have to have as defenses are pretty darn athletic and being able to keep up with them. … I think those guys match in their work ethic and their mind-set, I think they’ll make a major impact here.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Mike Jarvis (Medford, N.J.)
Quick analysis: Jarvis was recruited as both an offensive and defensive lineman, but UW will look to make him a defensive end. He has good quickness but will need to add weight and strength at the college level.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Jarvis: “He fits what we do, the right mentality. He can get after people. Very physically impressive at the high school level. We’re looking forward to developing his skills as we continue to push what we can ask our defensive line to do. You turn on a tape and you go, ‘Dang, everything we ask our guys to do, he’s putting on tape for you.’”
Number of players: 4
Who are they: Braelon Allen, (Fond du Lac), Jake Chaney (Cape Coral, Fla.), Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount, Minn.), Bryan Sanborn (Lake Zurich, Ill.)
Quick analysis: UW may need these players as soon as next year depending on what junior Jack Sanborn and senior Mike Maskalunas decide to do this offseason. … Allen is a physical freak, showing off-the-charts strength and love for making big hits. After playing safety in high school, moving to linebacker could allow him to be around the ball often. … Chaney posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons as a junior and senior and has a nose for attacking the ball and creating fumbles. … Ratzlaff is another wild card. He has the speed and athleticism to play at any linebacker spot and turned down a hockey scholarship to Minnesota to play football. … Bryan Sanborn has good closing speed and often was used as a blitzer in high school.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Ratzlaff: “We’re excited for him because as talented as he is, he really has not focused solely on football. So we still feel like there’s a ton of growth in his game and coming from a very, very high, high level of play already.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Ayo Adebogun (Mequon), TJ Bollers (Tiffin, Iowa), Darryl Peterson (Akron, Ohio)
Quick analysis: This group rivals the O-line as the deepest, most talented chunk of the class, but don’t be surprised if one or more of these players ends up being listed at another position in the future. … Adebogun, a lineman in high school, has a tremendous first step. … Bollers has the size to potentially play on the line, but the quickness and block-shedding of an outside backer. … Peterson was a prolific pass rusher in high school and could help UW soon.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Bollers: “We love his versatility. (We) see him as an outside linebacker, kind of plus. We think he can do a little bit more than that position and provide some flexibility for us. Great physicality with what he shown in high school. As he grows into his body, it’s going to be a lot of fun to put him in different positions.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Al Ashford III (Denver, Colo.), Ricardo Hallman (Miami, Fla.), Hunter Wohler (Muskego)
Quick analysis: Ashford already plays with the aggressive style that Leonhard loves and he’s borderline obsessive about learning and refining technique. … Hallman is a true ball hawk and uses his athleticism to close on balls in the air faster than opposing receivers. … Wohler, Wisconsin’s two-time AP state player of the year, is a special blend of ball skills and physicality as a safety.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Wohler: “Probably as highly recruited of a skill player in the state in a long time. Extremely talented. What he does at the safety position in impacting games at that level was a lot of fun to watch.”
In this Series
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