Ross Kolodziej holds a meeting with his University of Wisconsin defensive linemen early in the afternoon.
The purpose of that meeting is to review practice and to start correcting mistakes, then adding new elements that will be introduced in future practices. During this fall’s training camp, Kolodziej has been greeted by a number of his players already in the room, already briefed on their miscues and ready to ask questions.
Senior Matt Henningsen leads that players-only session after the team’s midday break, a sign the former walk-on from Menomonee Falls has taken ownership of the group and embraces the leadership role he’s earned.
“He's doing a great job of driving that, making it more of a player-driven than a coach-driven type of room,” Kolodziej said.
Olive Sagapolu once ran those meetings in the defensive line room while a young Henningsen took notes. Those sessions were invaluable for a redshirt player who had good instincts for the game and how to find the ball but needed lessons on how to use his physicality to get of blocks.
Henningsen sees guiding others the way Sagapolu did for him as his responsibility for the No. 12 Badgers’ defensive line, a group with intriguing talent but short on game experience.
“I remember how grateful I was when he used to do that for me,” Henningsen said. “I mean, he was a senior, right? He didn't have to do that. He was just showing me the ropes and trying to try and do whatever he could to help me develop into the player that he knew I could be.
“It's cool seeing people respond to that and getting to come up there with me and listen to what I have to say. So I'm just hoping that helps everybody evolve.”
Henningsen is the right guy to be leading a study session. He finished his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering with a 4.0 grade-point average and is now pursuing his master’s degree.
While Henningsen tries to give more of himself to others off the field, he’s showing during practice that the Badgers can expect more from him between the lines this season.
He made history as a redshirt freshman in 2018 when he became the first freshman walk-on since at least 1990 to start a season opener, then played in each game that season and the next. His 2020 was ended early when he tore his biceps against Michigan, but he recovered quickly from the injury and practiced this spring.
Throughout training camp, Henningsen has flashed the powerful upper-body strength that makes him a difficult player to block and quickness to collapse a hole when he sees one. After years of being in a rotation at defensive end, Henningsen is in the starting lineup. He’s challenged himself this offseason to add more disruptive plays to his game, whether they be tackles for loss, sacks or forced fumbles.
“I think one of the reasons why (former defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield) started to put me on the field when I was so young was ball awareness,” Henningsen said. “Even though I wasn't necessarily physically ready yet, I knew what was going on, I had good awareness of the ball. So then I've continued to develop my physical play in my technique throughout my time here. Now I'm just trying to make plays and make things happen.”
Teammates have come to trust Henningsen’s play and his knowledge of the defense.
“Knowing that most likely he's going to be right, just feeling that confidence … if I'm out there and I have a brain fart, I can just look over, ‘HenDog, what am I doing?’” junior defensive tackle Keeanu Benton said.
Henningsen’s experiences, along with his ability and willingness to share them with his teammates, earn him respect up and down the roster, according to coach Paul Chryst.
In what could be Henningsen’s last season with UW, Chryst believes he will show a new side of his game this fall.
“I think Ross has done a really nice job of kind of setting the table, but I think Henny’s done a great job of taking that (opportunity),” Chryst said.
“And I think if he continues to do that, I think we’ve got a chance to get our best version of Henny using his strengths, literally and kind of big-picture strengths. He's been really good for the room. And … people know it and it rubs off and, honestly, I think it helps the whole team.”
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.