MADISON, Wis. -- There are some new faces in the Wisconsin football program. In addition to adding five new assistant coaches to his staff, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema introduced his three newest players on signing day. Dan Voltz, Vonte Jackson, and Hugs Etienne all met with the media for the first time on Wednesday, having already enrolled in spring classes and signed their national letters of intent.
"We are excited ... to have the three freshmen join us (for) this semester," Bielema said during his signing day press conference. "They did a great job, Hugs, Dan, and Vonte. You don't just decide your senior year that you're going to graduate. They planned this thing out in advance, did a lot of extra academic work to get to where they are, and now they really get a bonus semester of college football."
"Those three guys will all have a distinct advantage."
By enrolling in school a semester early, the three newest Badgers can participate in winter conditioning and spring football, giving them an extra semester to get adjusted to the next level of competition. In addition, they can use the semester to get acclimated to the college workload, so they aren't overwhelmed when fall camp rolls around in August.
Voltz Feels At Home
Voltz, a four-star offensive lineman from Barrington, Ill., is the top-rated lineman in Wisconsin's 2012 class. And it would have been easy for him to look elsewhere, after Paul Chryst and Bob Bostad left for Pittsburgh. Voltz had offers from many other BCS schools, but chose to stick with the Badgers and their new staff.
"When I committed, I committed to the university, not necessarily to the coaching staff," Voltz said Wednesday. "Obviously everybody makes their own decisions, and we lost a few guys, but we have a great recruiting class still."
But it certainly helps when they bring in another good position coach. Voltz was adamant that he never wavered in his commitment, he even enrolled in classes before the Badgers had replaced Bostad, but said the hiring of Mike Markuson was reassuring.
"I had a little meeting with Coach Markuson, got to know him as a person, and I couldn't be more excited," Voltz said. "He didn't even talk about football that much when I first met him. He told me he's here for me, he's here for the players, and if I need anything ... he told me to call him. He's really all about family. I just felt really comfortable."
Voltz's early enrollment might also give him a head start on cracking the two-deep for next season. With three out of five starters leaving, the Badgers definitely have holes to fill on the line for 2012. Voltz said he wants to compete, but understands that the coaches have to put the best players on the field.
"I'm going to try my best and compete my best," Voltz said. "Part of the reason I came in early was the depth issues, and to hopefully get some early experience, some early playing time. But I know whoever they're going to put in there is going to be the best guys to win the game, so I'm just going to do my best."
Wisconsin defensive back Hugs Etienne hasn't played a down of Big Ten football yet, but he might already have one of the best names in the game. Etienne is a three-star recruit from Plantation, Fla., and he said the semester has been an adjustment for him so far. He hadn't even seen snow in person until he came up for school.
"It's not a big deal," Etienne said. "I'll adjust to it eventually. Now I'm getting used to the campus."
Etienne mentioned that the university's engineering school sealed the deal for him, but it helped that the Badgers have such a strong connection to Florida, with several players from the sunshine state already on the team.
"It actually helped big time, knowing that I'm coming here and there are guys from where I'm from," Etienne said. Fellow defensive backs Peniel Jean and Devin Gaulden were particularly helpful in helping Etienne feel more at home up north in Wisconsin.
Etienne might need to redshirt this season, according to Bielema, but Etienne still believes enrolling early will do a lot of good for him. The Badgers are planning on playing him at corner back, but he could use some development time to put on some extra weight. The 5-foot-11 Etienne only weighs 170 pounds, but then again, that's what he's here for.
"We're mostly working out," Etienne said. "Obviously I've got to put some size on me. That's why I came up early."