The University of Wisconsin football team knows better than most the effects COVID-19 can have on a group of people.
The Badgers missed out the chance to play three games last season due to COVID outbreaks, one of which hit 32 UW players and coaches. UW and college football as a whole is hoping all the scheduled games of the 2021 season, and have fans in the stands, despite the still-present threat of COVID-19 and its Delta variant.
UW players have access to the COVID-19 vaccine — a weapon to combat the virus unavailable to them last season — and coach Paul Chryst told reporters late last month the team was above 85% vaccinated. Under current Big Ten Conference protocols, which could change at some point this month, vaccinated players won’t be required to be tested every day as they were last season.
During the program’s media day Thursday, a few players and coaches shared their thoughts on why they chose to get vaccinated, and how they discuss the topic with teammates. Here they are in their own words.
Matt Henningsen, senior defensive lineman
It’s a personal decision, obviously.
Honestly, the reason I got it — I got it as soon as I could — I was one of the players on the team who never got COVID. So I was also wanting to get it a little bit quicker because of that. Because you know that getting COVID grants you a certain level of immunity. So I was kind of rushing to get it, because I didn't want to be quarantined. I had been quarantined from contact tracing, but I never tested positive. So I was kind of rushing to get it to start.
And then once I got it, I was a lot more comfortable just kind of doing my thing. Because I mean, as you know, during the season and stuff, we were kind of just hanging out in our apartments, going to the stadium and coming back. I got my groceries delivered. And it's not necessarily just because you're afraid of the virus and stuff, it's because you don't want to miss time, right? You don't want to miss time on the field because of the contact tracing, all that stuff. It was a weight taken off my back. I mean, obviously, got me a little sick, the normal things.
A good amount of the team (has been vaccinated). And most of the guys who haven't have pretty good reasons not to, I'd like to say that."
Alvis Whitted, wide receivers coach
"I was kind of hesitant as well, but then I had to look at the big picture. I have a wife and daughter at home. You know, I have these guys (UW players), I have to be an example for them. I got it a while back, but yeah … hopefully more people can do that."
Logan Bruss, senior offensive lineman
"It’s kind of a fine line between pressuring somebody while also giving them their own choice. The medical staff here, they did a good job of educating everybody on the vaccine and the implications with that. Also not forcing anybody, they just wanted everybody to make the choice for them. They didn’t try to force anybody to do anything. Just as a teammate, I thought if I could keep myself on the field, that would give our team the best chance to win. So that’s what made the decision for me, and I just wanted to be available all the time. ‘Cause last year a lot of guys were getting COVID and having to miss a stretch of three games, and in the middle of the season that can be a killer. So, just making sure I was available the whole time was my main priority.
I was sick of testing. Just hopefully put some of the struggles with it behind us. I know we’re not completely out of the woods yet, but just do my part I thought was enough for me to get it done. … That’s the other thing, I don’t want to be accidentally missing workouts or missing important practices. I just wanted to be as focused as possible."
Graham Mertz, redshirt sophomore quarterback
"For us, there's no pressuring. We know that guys have their own opinions. And yeah, if a guy doesn't want to get it, I mean, I'm not going to jump him for it. Everybody has a right to their own opinion and they can do what they want to do.
Obviously, we'd love to be close to 100%, but realistically it's probably not going to happen, because people probably don't feel comfortable getting it, or … I don’t know, I can't speak for other people. But I got mine just because I knew the benefits for us as a team. And for me getting it, I wouldn't be able to get quarantined or any of that stuff. So for me, my choice was I was just going to get it just because it was the best thing for the team and for the situation that we're in right now. Everybody’s got their own reasons."
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 last year’s 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 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 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.