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National Signing Day 2015: Wisconsin's in-state recruits reflect on signing, relationships

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The WFCA defensive player of the year, the WFCA offensive player of the year who was initially offered a greyshirt but bumped up to a full scholarship and a former Northern Illinois commit who flipped to Wisconsin are all part of the in-state crop joining the Badgers in 2015.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

David Pfaff remembers walking into Camp Randall Stadium in 2007 to watch the WIAA state finals for football, knowing he wanted to play for the Wisconsin Badgers one day if given the chance.

"That was the first time I ever set foot in a collegiate stadium, and I loved it," said Pfaff, a Thiensville defensive end from Homestead High School.

"I told my mom, at least I think I told my mom, I said I wanted to play here some day. At that time, we had no idea how good I was gonna get, and I've been fortunate enough to get to this level where I can actually play for them now. It's such an honor, you know what I'm saying? I get this opportunity."

It's a sentiment many in-state high school players strive for. In this class of 2015, Wisconsin has five scholarship players planning to sign their letters of intent on Wednesday, along with 11 known in-state walk-ons, hailing from the Badger State that will have the opportunity to realize those dreams. Their stories are different, but the pride and emotion of receiving those offers bond this class together.

Pfaff, who won the WFCA Defensive Player of the Year and the Tim Krumrie Award as the most outstanding senior defensive linemen in Wisconsin, was one of three in-state recruits offered by then-head coach Gary Andersen, along with Seymour's Jon Dietzen and Brown Deer's Zack Baun (greyshirt).

Pfaff committed in May, but Andersen left in mid-December as he accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State. Though there have been a flood of recruits reopening their recruitments before National Signing Day, the 6'2, 252-pound defensive end noted the core of the class has remained intact and is accustomed to the winds of change. He looks forward to getting to know new head coach Paul Chryst, and said the calming influence of Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez tempered the turmoil of a head coaching search in December.

"What helped ... was having coach Alvarez. He's just a guy. He really put our mind at ease that we were in good hands, and he was going to get the right man for the job -- and he did. -David Pfaff

"Really what helped the change was having coach Alvarez," Pfaff said. "He's just a guy. He really put our mind at ease that we were in good hands, and he was going to get the right man for the job -- and he did."

Like Pfaff, Baun committed to the Andersen regime in late October. A prep quarterback for Brown Deer, Wisconsin offered him a greyshirt opportunity. Not only would he postpone enrolling for a semester, he would have to play as an outside linebacker. Ben Strickland, Wisconsin's secondary coach for the past three seasons and reportedly the new recruiting coordinator, told Baun to trust the process as many greyshirts turn into full scholarship opportunities.

After Chryst was hired, Baun received a phone call from Strickland in mid-January, informing him the offer was upgraded to a full scholarship.

"I was ecstatic when coach Strickland called me," Baun said. "I immediately told my mom, and my mom talked to coach Strickland on the phone. It just means so much to my family and everyone else."

Some in-state commits, like Green Bay (Bay Port) quarterback/linebacker Alec Ingold, didn't receive much interest or the full scholarship offers from Wisconsin when Andersen was head coach. Though he spoke with Strickland on a few conversations, Ingold noted interest was low from the program.

He committed to Northern Illinois in June as a quarterback, and this past season, he threw for 16 touchdown passes and was named the Gatorade state player of the year. It took Wisconsin and new offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph until mid-January to formally offer the Wisconsin Associated Press high school player of the year, but like Baun, it came for the defensive side of the ball as a linebacker.

Excited about receiving an offer from his home state school, Ingold realized he had a major decision on his hands. He chose to flip to Wisconsin, but had to decommit from the Huskies in the process.

"It was the hardest conversation I've ever had to have," Ingold said.

Though players like Ingold and Wausau (West) linebacker Jake Whalen received scholarships late in the recruiting cycle, the in-state commits forged strong bonds before committing. Ingold and Dietzen both trained at Don Beebe's House of Speed in Green Bay and keep in contact. Both of Ingold and Dietzen's Twitter profiles state their strong friendships. Ingold noted the closeness and the similarity of the commits in the program's recruiting class.

"There's definitely a bond, and you can tell Wisconsin's really focused on recruiting good guys," said the 6'2, 220-pound Ingold.

Ingold and Whalen tweeted that they would be future roommates in Madison. Baun has kept in touch with Pfaff and Dietzen as well, and said he plans to room with another in-state product, walk-on cornerback Elijah Strong from Oak Creek.

Pfaff and Ingold noted how a group of players met at the WFCA banquet in late January.

"They're really awesome guys and really good athletes, and we're excited to have them on board," Pfaff said.

For Baun, who accounted for 59 touchdowns (20 passing, 39 rushing) his senior year en route to the WFCA offensive player of the year honors, there's a sense of pride and strong conviction in signing with Wisconsin -- and to wear the cardinal and white for the next four or five years.

"It's huge," Baun said.

"Just being from Wisconsin, you see the ‘Motion W' everywhere you go, and you just want to be a part of it."