Fall camp should be a time of unchecked optimism for fans. No down has been played and all things are possible, especially an undefeated season. Concerns are assuaged by the latest practice reports, not necessarily because the reports are positive, but because hope can skew what we read. Few are naive enough to believe that their team has zero weaknesses heading into the season, but upon each new name we read we ascribe the potential for greatness.
Wisconsin has had its share of where'd-he-come-from success stories. Jim Leonhard, J.J. Watt and Jared Abbrederis are three brilliant examples. If pattern persists, you have probably already read about Wisconsin's next great once-overlooked star ready to bust loose. Through one week (ish) of practice reports, a few names stand out.
When looking for a breakout star, your attention should immediately turn to the positions of greatest need. Former Rivals 2-star Reggie Mitchell was arguably Wisconsin's biggest surprise performer of the spring after he seemingly locked down the safety spot next to Dezmen Southward. Since Mitchell's transfer to Pitt, it has been another former 2-star, Leo Musso, who has put himself in strong contention for a starting gig.
Musso chose Wisconsin over Northern Illinois and South Dakota State in 2012, coming out of Waunakee. He committed to Wisconsin as a running back, though safety was always considered a potential landing spot. The weak recruiting interest wasn't due to a lack of measurables, however. Musso rushed for 2,382 yards and 39 touchdowns to help lead Waunakee to a third-straight WIAA championship, and he posted a 40-inch vertical, 4.12 shuttle and 4.6 40-yard dash during his brief foray into high school camps.
This fall, Musso has often been seen running with the ones, ahead of more experience players like Michael Caputo and Michael Trotter, and Gary Andersen has praised Musso's athleticism. Thanks due in large part to Mitchell's departure, Musso may be a four-year starter in the defensive backfield.
Jacobs is another Rivals 2-star who has been turning heads in the offseason. Like Musso, Jacobs' lack of recruiting attention had little to do with what he could do, physically. The young man is a slam dunk national champion who fell below radar due to his rawness. When he committed to the Badgers, he had played just two seasons of organized football.
Jacobs is picking up the game quickly, however. He is already running with the second team, and Dave Aranda noted that Jacobs is currently interchangeable with Alec James at F- and B-side linebacker. Comments about Jacobs quickly picking up the mental aspects of outside linebacker are particularly encouraging. Considering Jacobs' current trajectory and inexperience relative to anyone else on the roster, it's difficult not to get carried away imagining where he could be by the end of the season and beyond.
As with safety, a lack of depth at wide receiver could elevate a young player into a starring role this season. Jordan Frederick and Kenzel Doe appear to be leading up the depth chart behind Abbrederis, but neither is a proven commodity. True freshman Rob Wheelwright has been making waves, and would seem to be the next most likely young player to make an impact this season, but since we're focusing on relatively unknown quantities, let's save Wheelwright hype for another day.
Let's talk about Alex Erickson.
The young man was a wunderkind in high school, earning first-team all-state at defensive back and quarterback as a senior. For the 2010 season, he was named the SWAL Conference Player of the Year and the Wisconsin State Journal Small School Player of the Year after racking up 2,489 total yards and 33 touchdowns on offense, and 50 tackles and three interceptions on defense.
Erickson presumably doesn't have the same quick-twitch athleticism as Musso or Jacobs, but there's no denying that he has the capacity to ball. Tom Mulhern was very impressed with Erickson during one particular practice last week:
I spent some time on Tuesday focusing on the wide receiver position and the guy who had the most impressive day was probably redshirt freshman walk-on Alex Erickson, the former quarterback from Darlington.
Erickson had two or three nice plays, including a contested deep ball he caught against freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton. A short time later, Erickson made a diving catch on a third-down play.
B5Q's own great Jake Kocorowski also noted that Erickson has caught some impressive passes. Like Musso and Jacobs, Erickson still has four years to make his mark. We'll see whether a few bullet points today mean anything down the line, but in the mean time there's no harm getting excited what the future may be and tracing where greatness may have already begun.
After all, the season hasn't started yet.