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Wisconsin football recruiting: Strong bond persists throughout Badgers' class of 2015

"I don't know what it is, but when I step next to those guys I just feel like I've known them forever, and I only see them once every four months." -- Austin Kafentzis

Nick Thomas

Two Saturdays ago, the Wisconsin Badgers dominated the Maryland Terrapins 52-7 in front of 80,336 fans. It was the first complete game the Badgers had played all year, hitting on all three phases en route to an overwhelming victory many thought would be much closer.

For Wisconsin quarterback commit Austin Kafentzis -- like many of the recruits taking their official visits that day -- it was his first gameday experience at Camp Randall Stadium. Taking in the atmosphere of a Badgers game in Madison was an experience that left the Sandy (Jordan), Utah, senior quarterback nearly speechless but excited to become a Badger.

"Watching them, because we were able to stand out on field when they were warming up and everything, I was getting butterflies and I wasn't even playing -- I was just watching," Kafentzis said.

"It was one of those things that you can't wait to be up there, playing in front of such a great crowd."

Aside from the blowout victory, It was a big weekend for Wisconsin recruiting. Four new high school recruits gave their verbal commitments to the Badgers in a three-day span, which brought the growing number of known scholarship commits up to 23 for head coach Gary Andersen's class of 2015 (now 22 with the decommitment of Mohamed Barry after that weekend).

Though the number of commits for this year appears large and the distance from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Barnegat, N.J. -- the hometowns of Elu Aydon and Sam Madden, respectively -- even larger, the bond between the players has grown throughout the year.

Kafentzis, Madden and Kyle Penniston met each other during a Wisconsin camp in the summer. Along with other commits, they have stayed in touch through a group chat the players have set up.

Though corresponding with his future teammates for months, Brandenton (IMG), Fla., inside linebacker Nick Thomas finally got to be face-to-face with them two weekends ago.

"This was the first time that I got to meet with them," said Thomas, who's enrolling early with Kafentzis and Penniston in January. "They've known each other and met each other before, but this last weekend was the first time that I got to meet them. It was great."

The players' families also were in town. Penniston, the three-star tight end from Santa Ana (Mater Dei), Calif., had his parents in town. Per Penniston, they "had a blast" while also having their questions answered during his visit.

For Madden, he and his father were in town during the summer when he committed to Wisconsin, but it was the first time his mother had a chance to experience Madison. The three-star offensive linemen from New Jersey also had time to bond with his football family as well over that weekend.

"The visit went well -- it was a blast," said Madden, who's faith as a Christian has helped him stay grounded throughout film study and the recruiting process.

"My mother, she got to see it for the first time, so that was pretty neat. Talking with the guys, it was real great time with them. We almost hung out like every day."

"I don't know what it is, but when I step next to those guys I just feel like I've known them forever, and I only see them once every four months," Kafentzis said.

Penniston's high school teammate, three-star defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu, was one of the four recruits who gave verbal commitments that weekend. For the 6'3, 295-pound athlete from Santa Ana, Calif. who's playing both sides of the ball for Mater Dei, the family environment was a major factor in his decision to become a Badger.

He developed an instant bond with Aydon considering their Samoan heritage, and also formed a connection with Madden. To Sagapolu, Madden reminds him of his current teammates at Mater Dei that he regards as brothers.

"As soon as I got there, I felt welcomed by the coaching staff, by the recruiting players that I met," Sagapolu said. "I could already tell one of my good friends is probably going to be Sam and Elu -- those will probably be the guys that I'll be hanging out with during my four years."

After their visits, the commits went back to their respective homes to continue their senior seasons, hoping to cap off their prep careers before setting foot on campus. Some will enroll early in January. Others will wait until June to come to Madison to being playing football at the collegiate level.

Per Penniston, this group of players is close due to the fact they have the same goals, both on the field and in the classroom.

"We want to get that top-tier education. We want to play for a national title," Penniston said.

"I think we all have the same mindset going into this, which really helps."