After a dormant spring on the recruiting trail, things are set to heat up for the University of Wisconsin football program in June.
The NCAA’s nearly 14-month ban on in-person recruiting will end on June 1 and UW is set to host a bevy of recruits on official visits starting June 4. That group, which is up to at least 10 recruits from the 2022 class, includes a quartet of four-star, in-state prospects who have been the coaching staff’s focus for more than a year.
Offensive lineman Joe Brunner (Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay), Carson Hinzman (Hammond, Saint Croix Central) and Billy Schrauth (Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs) and defensive lineman Isaac Hamm (Sun Prairie) will be visiting UW next weekend, kicking off a busy month for these high-value targets.
Brunner is slated to visit Ohio State the following weekend and then Notre Dame on June 18, according to 247Sports. Hinzman is set to visit Ohio State, Notre Dame and Iowa over the last three weekends in June, while Schrauth also is visiting the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish over the third week of the month.
UW coach Paul Chryst said last month as spring practices wrapped up that having recruits on campus — an element of the process the Badgers have invested more time and money into over the past five years — is exciting.
“We’ve got a class that’s coming in in June and it’s been a long time since they’ve been on campus, and then we’ve got a couple that really haven’t been inside our facility,” Chryst said. “So you certainly have that component. But then guys that you’ve been recruiting and have a chance to have an official visit, or guys come in and unofficial, having them be able to come is big.”
Four-star running back Nicholas Singleton (Reading, Pennsylvania), a player with whom the Badgers have been gaining ground but will have to battle to land against Penn State, Notre Dame and Alabama, is being brought in next week.
The Badgers have one commitment in the 2022 recruiting class: Franklin quarterback Myles Burkett. UW is the only Big Ten Conference program without at least two commits.
Badgers coaches will also get to see prospects from a number of classes at camps in June. UW is putting on all-position showcases on June 3 and 7, and specialist camps on June 9 and 20.
Learning from virtual recruiting
Getting players on campus and having them experience UW with their own eyes had to be replaced by Zoom tours and other online methods when the in-person ban was in place.
Chryst said he and his staff learned some valuable lessons from recruiting during the pandemic, some of which will continue.
“For the longest time, you tried to get on the phone with guys, but now you can get on … in essence, you can make contact, but you can show ‘em (things), you can see each other,” Chryst said. “And so I think there’s a lot of those (tools) we used in this past year that you want to carry forward.”
NIL still unsolved
Getting firm details on how athletes will earn money for their name, image and likeness got even more challenging Thursday when members of Congress introduced a bill that would allow players to unionize and be considered employees of their schools.
The NCAA’s response to the bill was it would “directly undercut the purpose of college: earning a degree.” However, by asking Congress to make a nationwide infrastructure for NIL payments instead of creating one itself, the NCAA may not get what it wants.
Wisconsin’s legislature hasn’t yet proposed a bill on NIL, joining only Ohio as states without a bill working its way through the state system.
Even without knowing how it will work, Chryst said NIL discussions are ongoing with current players and recruits.
“Absolutely, it’s coming, and if done right, boy, it makes a lot of sense, right?” Chryst said. “And how do we do it the right way? And how do you do it in a way that the players can take advantage of it, but also not one, get distracted by it, or get in trouble because of it, right? The unintended consequences of it because ... this opens up a lot of other things.
“If you’re trying to take advantage, are going to take advantage or can take advantage of anything with name, image and likeness — whether you’re talking about taxes or whatever it may be, time spent, however that’s going to look — I think it’s a great opportunity that we will have with our current players and obviously it’s going to come up (in recruiting), because your recruits, you’re talking to them as if they’re going to be your current players. So I think definitely it’s (something) that you’ve got to (talk about), not as concerned about pinpointing the exact details of it, but absolutely the discussions, we have started them and that will continue to go this summer.”
Allen moving to tailback
After reclassifying to the 2021 class, another major change is coming for Fond du Lac’s Braelon Allen.
Allen, a four-star athlete who was believed to be best-suited as a linebacker or safety in college, will start at running back when he reports to UW. Rivals’ Jon McNamara broke the news Thursday.
Allen — an imposing 6-foot-2, 240-pounder whose workout videos show raw strength not often seen in a 17-year-old — was a force for Fond du Lac this spring. He was a unanimous AP first-team All-State player at running back and defensive back, and the unanimous state player of the year for the spring season. He had 1,047 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in seven games.
UW could use the help in the backfield, especially after a spring session in which players such as Julius Davis and Isaac Guerendo battled leg injuries and missed nearly all of the practices open to media. UW, which has three tailback recruits in the 2021 class, is reportedly in the running for Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi as well.
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), Braelon Allen, (Fond du Lac), 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. … Allen is a surprise to move to this group, weighing 240 pounds, but he's got an athleticism and physicality that's rare for his age. ... 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: 3
Who are they: Jake Chaney (Cape Coral, Fla.), Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount, Minn.), Bryan Sanborn (Lake Zurich, Ill.)
Quick analysis: UW won't need these players to be ready to play immediately after seniors Jack Sanborn and Mike Maskalunas decided to stay this offseason. … 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.”