Enthusiasm pours out of Devin Chandler like sweat does during a hot training camp practice at Camp Randall Stadium.
Entering his second year at the University of Wisconsin, the wide receiver can see and feel that he’s close to delivering on his potential. His speed and acceleration give him the chance to be a deep threat in the Badgers’ offense. His agility makes him a weapon as a return man on special teams.
But before he can get on the game field and show those skills, Chandler, a redshirt freshman, has to continue banking trust with his teammates and coaches. They, too, see the flashes of athletic brilliance, but in a crowded receiver room led by a couple of savvy veterans, knowing the details of every route and assignment is the only path to snaps.
“I think for Devin the key thing — and we’ve had conversations, he and I, just in regards to the direction he needs to go — just continue to mature, on and off the field,” receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “I think that he’s making strides. He’s continuing to do things and just learning football, really. And I think the more football that he learns, the more that the game will slow down for him. He can have a bright future here.”
Chandler came to UW as a somewhat unheralded recruit. A midseason addition to the 2020 class, the three-star prospect out of Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, had offers from a handful of Power Five programs such as Duke, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia.
He was pressed into action on special teams and offense after injuries to the wide receivers, particularly seniors Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor. He caught two passes for 28 yards and had six kick returns for 156 yards. Seeing the field early taught Chandler about the level of preparation needed to succeed at the Big Ten Conference level.
“You have to make sure that you’re on top of everything, 24/7,” Chandler said. “You have to understand not only your assignment, but everybody else’s assignment and the kind of looks that the defense has giving.”
That process is ongoing as Chandler and the Badgers enter their second full week of training camp. But he’ll have to take advantage of meeting time and mental reps at practice to continue his growth.
Chances at wide receiver will start thinning as camp continues and coaches begin giving more snaps to the top group of Davis, Pryor and sophomore Chimere Dike to prepare for the season. At present, Chandler finds himself in the trio behind them, along with junior A.J. Abbott and senior Jack Dunn.
He calls Davis and Pryor his big brothers, and says their advice is crucial to his development. Every tip or correction they give gets jotted down in a notebook or applied to the next rep.
“When you first get into college from high school, the speed is different,” Davis said. “The playbook is thicker, you’ve got to do a lot of thinking. So I would say mentally was his biggest area this summer and now camp, taking that next step to actually having a grasp of the playbook. … It’s just a matter of him to keep continuing to get stronger. And the sky’s the limit for my guy.”
While he waits for more opportunities on offense, Chandler is determined to make noise as a returner. His 59-yard kick return in the third quarter of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl jump-started the Badgers’ drive that tied the game 21-21. He’s been the first-team kick returner through training camp thus far.
Chandler said playing special teams helps him get into the flow of a game and use his speed in the open field.
Whitted, who played nine years in the NFL as a receiver and kick returner, enjoys the effort Chandler puts into special teams, saying that he sees an urgency in Chandler’s approach.
“He’s grown a lot in regards to special teams and I love that he wants to be on kickoff return, because it’s going to help our football team,” Whitted said.
Chandler’s goals are set high — he wants to return “at least three” kickoffs for touchdowns. Told that he’d set a UW single-season record if he meets that goal, Chandler’s eyes light up.
“That’d be cool,” he says, laughing.
Though his time as a regular at receiver may be later rather than sooner, Chandler said he’s starting to put things together to be ready for his time.
“As I get used to it and everything, I kind of start to have more fun with it, you know?” he said. “I get to experiment with certain things in the playbook and on the field, and I’m feeling good about that.”
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2022 football recruiting class
Myles Burkett became the Badgers’ first Class of 2022 recruit when he announced his decision in January.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Franklin is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and Rivals, and showed great mobility and arm strength in his junior season. He battled back from a knee injury as a sophomore to throw for 1,236 and 11 touchdowns and rush for 180 yards and a score in a pandemic-shortened season.
He’s the first in-state quarterback to earn a scholarship out of high school since 2011.
As his recruiting stock started to rise, the Badgers were able to secure a commitment from Fall Rivers’ Barrett Nelson in late June.
The offensive tackle was 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds after his junior season, and his quickness off the ball has made him a load on both the offensive and defensive lines. Nelson is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star on Rivals.
He had offers from Iowa State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and others before choosing UW.
Nelson’s father, Todd, was a Badgers offensive lineman in the late 1980s, and his brother, Jack, is currently an offensive lineman for UW.
After wowing UW coaches at a pair of camps, Monroe tight end JT Seagreaves accepted a scholarship offer in late June.
Seagreaves is an intriguing prospect for the Badgers — at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has the physical frame to grow into an imposing tight end, and he possesses sprinter speeds. He’s averaged more than 21 yards per catch each of the past two seasons and was starting to gain more Power Five conference interested when he committed to UW.
Seagreaves is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star according to Rivals.
In multiple trips to UW’s campus in June, Cade Yacamelli was called “a football player” by UW coaches rather than locking him into a position. He earned a scholarship offer after an impressive camp workout and accepted it in late June.
The consensus three-star athlete was starting to earn more recruiting attention from Power Five schools when he accepted the Badgers’ offer. UW was the first Power Five offer for the 6-foot, 200-pounder. He’s played receiver, running back and defensive back in high school, but likely projects as a receiver or defensive back in college.
The Penn Trafford High School product has good quickness and change-of-direction that make him dangerous with the ball in his hands.
When A’Khoury Lyde accepted a UW scholarship offer in late June, he became the first player on the defensive side of the ball to commit in the 2022 class.
Lyde (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), a consensus three-star recruit, has strong ball skills and a willingness to hit that separates him from other cornerbacks.
The Wayne, New Jersey, native is the eighth-ranked player in his state, per Rivals.
The Badgers landed a tall, speedy receiver when Tommy McIntosh committed in late June.
The DeWitt, Michigan, native stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds. He uses his body to shield off defenders at the point of the catch and does well catching the ball away from his body. His Hudl page lists a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time, and he has breakaway speed when he gets in the open field and can use his long strides.
A consensus three-star wide receiver chose the Badgers over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
UW beefed up its defensive front by landing defensive tackle Curtis Neal.
Neal — a 6-foot-2, 310-pounder — had more than 25 scholarship offers, and reportedly was deciding between UW and Ohio State at the end of his recruiting process. Neal is a product of William Amos Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, where the Badgers found receiver Devin Chandler in the 2020 cycle.
Neal, with his size and strength, likely fits best as a nose tackle in the Badgers’ 3-4 scheme.
Jim Leonhard may have found another rangy, smart cornerback to add to his secondary in Avyonne Jones, who committed in to UW in late June.
Jones — who hails from Southlake, Texas — was on campus the weekend of June 18 for an official visit and had narrowed an extensive offer list to UW and California. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back was previously committed to Oklahoma State, but retracted that commitment in late May.
With good recovery speed and a good feel for getting his hands between a receiver’s at the point of the catch, the consensus three-star prospect is a good fit for what UW cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat said he wants from his position group.
The Badgers landed the top-ranked player in Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive recruiting class when Joe Brunner committed the last week of June.
Brunner — a 6-foot-6, 300-pound prospect from Milwaukee who attends Whitefish Bay High School — is a consensus four-star recruit and a top-10 offensive tackle in the nation.
He held at least 16 Power Five scholarship offers, including ones from a majority of the Big Ten Conference, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon and Tennessee.
VINNY ANTHONY II
Receiver Vinny Anthony II — a consensus three-star receiver prospect from Louisville, Kentucky — joined UW's class on June 30.
Possessing a good burst of speed and long arms that extend his catch radius, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Anthony has a chance to play across the formation as a receiver.
Anthony chose UW over Cincinnati and Duke.
Austin Brown — who hails from Johnston City, Illinois, a small town outside of Carbondale — was considering offers from Boston College, Illinois, Michigan and Northwestern before choosing UW. The consensus three-star safety prospect had 21 known scholarship offers.
Brown committed to UW on the Fourth of July.
At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he has a good frame already and his high school film shows a willingness to lay big hits and attack blockers. He also plays quarterback for Johnston City.
After much discussion and thought, Tristan has changed his commitment and will be accepting a football scholarship offer from the University of Wisconsin. He has the utmost respect and admiration for the University of Arizona but this is an opportunity he cannot ignore. pic.twitter.com/hqf8GGqZwp— Tim Monday (@pappamonday) November 16, 2021
UW added an athletic defensive line prospect in mid-November when Tristan Monday flipped his commitment from Arizona to the Badgers.
UW was interested in Monday since he arrived in high school, but his size then didn't lend itself to a natural position fit in the Badgers' defense. Now standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds, he'll start his career as a defensive end. UW offered him a scholarship in early November and he accepted it after visiting campus Nov. 12-14.
Monday is a consensus three-star recruit from Scottsdale, Arizona, who had offers from Arizona, Baylor, Colorado, Florida State and Iowa State.
Vaughan, a 6-foot-4 linebacker from Wixom, Michigan, committed to UW in late November, choosing the Badgers over offers from programs like Colorado, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and others.
Vaughan is rated as a three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals.
Vaughan has been a late-riser on the recruiting trail, with all of his Power Five offers coming since October, but he has potential to be an inside or outside linebacker for the Badgers. He could fill the big-bodied outside ‘backer role that C.J. Goetz currently has for UW or could be a hybrid type of linebacker like UW pulled in with Jake Ratzlaff in the 2021 cycle.