Several big schools recruited DE Alec James (left), but the in-state recruit stuck with Wisconsin. Could he be rewarded with early playing time?
Gary Andersen had 19 new recruits to introduce on Wednesday. How many will actually see the field in 2013?
QB Tanner McEvoy, Hillsdale, N.J.
The commotion for the starting job only grew louder when coach Gary Andersen reeled in the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in junior college football, Tanner McEvoy. McEvoy, an elusive runner despite his 6-foot-6 frame, was a three-star prospect out of high school and spent a year at South Carolina before heading for junior college.
Andersen said in his Wednesday press conference that the latest quarterback will ensure that the Badgers are never short on options if the injury bug hits UW again. The head coach also said the addition of McEvoy will only fuel the competition, thus putting Wisconsin in top shape come September.
"From an athletic standpoint, Tanner can hurt you with his arm, his legs, and his mind. How good he is at that at this level remains to be seen," Andersen said. "But there are a lot of quarterbacks in this program that are excited about having the opportunity to compete at the starting job. He's just one of them that will have an opportunity to compete."
S Donnell Vercher, Clovis, Calif.
First-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda says safety Donnell Vercher simply has a keen eye for the ball.
Displaying what Aranda called a "wow" factor at Fresno City College. Major colleges bypassed him in high school because of academic issues, according to Aranda, and he could make for a dangerous companion alongside the established free safety, Dezmen Southward.
"We felt like we needed, again, to put ourselves in a position to up the numbers [in the secondary]," Andersen said. "He's a tremendous, tremendous athlete. He led the junior college in interceptions, if I'm not mistaken. He moves around very well."
CB Jakkarie Washington, Everett, Mass.
A late pickup and one of the less-heralded members of the Badgers' 2013 recruiting class, Jakkarie Washington was discovered by secondary coach Bill Busch.
He will likely have a hard time earning a spot ahead of fellow 2013 recruit Sojourn Shelton, but the UW head coach still sees potential in Washington.
"We wanted to evaluate the corners and get a young corner here, another one," Andersen said. "Sojourn (Shelton) is here, Keelon (Brookins) is here; they've done a tremendous job thus far in the program ... for two young corners. Wanted to get another one in Jakkarie. He's very fast and very quick, another tough-minded young man."
LB Leon Jacobs, Santa Clarita, Calif.
The consensus on linebacker Leon Jacobs is he's nothing less than an athletic freak.
A star basketball player in Southern California, Jacobs has only played two years of competitive football but appears to have near-limitless potential. He initially committed to Fresno State before backing out and Aranda immediately jumped at the opportunity to lure him to Madison.
"He's a man among boys, and so athletically, he's everything you look for," Aranda said. "[In terms of football] he's raw, it's been two years of football, so the plays that he made last year are natural plays and raw plays. He's a smart kid, so it's going to come to him."
DE Alec James, Brookfield, Wis.
The second-best recruit in the state according to Rivals, defensive end Alec James appears to have all the physical tools to become an explosive pass rusher on the edge.
Big-name programs like Oregon and Notre Dame courted James, and he may be one of the players Andersen referred to having a chance to prove themselves in spring ball. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, James is also a track athlete, which speaks to his dangerous combination of size and speed.
"It was a big process for him in a whole bunch of schools," Andersen said. "He stayed true with us and hung in there and did a nice job. He's a very talented young man. As big as he is, as tall as he is, as physical as he is and the way he runs is very, very impressive."
OL Hayden Biegel, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
Hayden Biegel is exactly the kind of Wisconsin-bred player the Badgers have turned into standout offensive linemen for years.
He will have plenty of work to do to in the weight room to fill out his 6-foot-5 frame (he's currently listed at 245 pounds). But Andersen sees how Biegel could one day become a more recognized names that can keep O-Line U in top form.
"Another one of the expected to-be great offensive linemen at the University of Wisconsin," Andersen said. "I feel very good about him and the direction that he's headed; the way he's changed his body really over the last year is very impressive."
S/RB Matt Hubley, Waukesha, Wis.
Instead of joining a stable of running backs clogging up the Wisconsin roster, Matt Hubley -- a standout running back in high school -- will likely move over to safety instead.
Another in-state recruit, Hubley's background compares favorably to that of Chris Maragos and Jim Leonhard, two underrated players who developed into stars.
"His football mind is very impressive," Andersen said. "When I walked in the home, [secondary coach Ben Strickland] was with me. I looked at Ben and I said, ‘Ben, you're recruiting yourself here. ‘"
Andersen also already sees a way for the two-star recruit to potentially make an immediate impact as a freshman.
"You look at him and think, ‘Is this a young man that could help you initially right out of the gate with special teams?'" he said. "It will be interesting to see how he handles it because I know mentally how tough he is and how he carries himself."
DE Chikwe Obasih, Brookfield, Wis.
If James and fellow defensive end Chikwe Obasih both develop as planned, they could develop into a ferocious pair of pass-rushers and run-stoppers.
Obasih is Rivals' top-ranked player in Wisconsin, and like James, has sky-high potential thanks to his athleticism and physical gifts. Obasih could likely line up in a 3-4 scheme if Aranda starts to implement that system and seems like an ideal candidate for some of the more unconventional blitzes Aranda will likely try out.
"The good thing about both those young men, speaking of Alec and of Chikwe in the same note, they're both athletic enough to be able to get involved into the zone blitz scheme," Andersen said. "When we do get into the odd front versus the even front, they're that defensive end that can play with his hand on the ground if need be. He can also get back and drop out in coverage."
WR Robert Wheelwright, Columbus, Ohio
Robert Wheelwright was one player Andersen identified who will have the chance to earn playing time immediately.
Wheelwright boasts decent speed and, although Andersen declined to peg him as someone he's counting on to make a difference next year, he seems as poised as any freshman to do so. Andersen acknowledged the Badgers are thin at receiver, and the Columbus native may be just the man to help.
"We need to put ourselves in a situation of productivity, that's not something we're going to turn around and hide from," Andersen said. "We all want Jared [Abbrederis] to be a tremendous football player -- he's going to be a lot better football player if when you sit back and you scheme our offense, you don't just look at him and try to do everything you can to take him away."
WR Jazz Peavy, Kenosha, Wis.
Although he boasts 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, Andersen lauded Peavy's ability to win aerial battles for contested passes thrown his way.
Peavy may not have the credentials of fellow wideout Robert Wheelwright, but could be another option to draw pressure away from Jared Abbrederis.
"They used him a lot on fly sweeps if you use the tape," Andersen said. "I thought he did a very nice job of putting himself in a position to make big plays, whether the ball was up in the air and contested or out in the open field. He's a big receiver. Also has very good speed."
TE T.J. Watt, Pewaukee, Wis.
The Watt pipeline continues to feed directly to Madison, as J.J. Watt's youngest brother becomes the third in the family to don a Badgers uniform.
Watt played quarterback and doubled as a linebacker his senior year, and Andersen said he could grow into either a tight end or a defensive end. Watt will have plenty to live up to thanks to his surname, and Andersen said Watt reminded him of another well-known puil.
"T.J. tells me that he wants to be the best Watt boy," he said. "If that's the case, we're in a pretty good spot. ... He reminds me a lot of [former Utah State player] Paul Kruger, the defensive end for the [Baltimore] Ravens. Paul was a quarterback in high school when I recruited him and watched him grow and develop."
CB Sojourn Shelton, Plantation, Fla.
Sojourn Shelton may be the most college-ready defensive back in the Badgers' class, and he's only helped his case by enrolling early at Wisconsin this spring.
Those two things add up to a freshman that can make an immediate impact in a secondary that lost three of its four starters from last year. Andersen did note that Johnson needs to bulk up from his current weight of 174 pounds, but noted he has already gained eight pounds since arriving on campus.
"We're trying to get the weight on him," Andersen said. "He's done a good job of adjusting to school, as well. It's really a great advantage, really as much football as being a college student."
CB Keelon Brookins, St. Paul, Minn.
As the No. 2 player in Minnesota according to Rivals, Keelon Brookins comes in with a fair amount of hype and could see game time in a secondary short on experience.
But Brookins is still nursing a knee injury, something that could sink him into an early hole as he battles for playing time this year.
"He's not full speed and will still be somewhat limited in spring, although he'll want to go," Andersen said. "We'll just definitely stay off on that a little bit and let him continue to rehab and get better before we turn him loose."