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Wisconsin football recruiting: Badgers' 2015 walk-ons could fill position needs

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What do you do when a scholarship player doesn't pan out or a recruiting cycle doesn't exactly pan out for a position of need? Call a walk-on! A couple of preferred walk-ons from this class could provide answers.

Jake Kocorowski

Twenty-one scholarship players signed with the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday. Among them included a Utah prep star that is arguably the best quarterback in that state's history (Austin Kafentzis), a four-star running back from Texas whose name is buzzing around circles to possibly get some instant playing time (Jordan Stevenson), and a late four-star safety/linebacker hybrid that ended the recruiting cycle on a positive note (Arrington Farrar).

With some solid recruits committing, there was attrition in the class of 2015 at a position of need, cornerback, along with some de-commitments at defensive line. Though those positions were depleted in recent weeks, Wisconsin's history suggests it fills the holes up well with those not initially offered a full ride. Walk-ons since the time Wisconsin director of athletics Barry Alvarez arrived have flourished for Badgers football and played a vital role in its success. Just ask Joe Panos, Jim Leonhard, Chris Maragos and Jared Abbrederis, among countless more.

Wisconsin officially announced 10 in-state recruits committed as preferred walk-ons in this year's class. Two of them -- Marshall's Ty DeForest and Sheboygan's (Sheboygan North) Noah Stengel -- are already on campus as early enrollees. DeForest will be able to bring some depth at linebacker, but two others in Oak Creek's Elijah Strong and Stevens Point Area's Andrew Ruzek could also provide some needed bodies in the defensive backfield and defensive line, respectively.

Elijah Strong

Class Position Height Weight
2015 CB 6'0 170 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Oak Creek (Oak Creek, Wis.) NR

T.J. Griffin, X'zavien Osbourne, and Takadrae Williams all reopened their commitments for various reasons in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, leaving only Titus Booker as the only scholarship recruit for a position losing Darius Hillary, Devin Gaulden and more depth after the 2015 season.

Strong committed to Wisconsin in November of 2014. His Hudl profile states he runs a 4.52 40-yard dash, and down the road, he will have a chance to see the field based on the roster numbers at cornerback, but more importantly because of what our Andrew Rosin stated was "necessary aggressiveness" and a "good lateral agility and great skills to play the ball."

Andrew Ruzek

Class Position Height Weight
2015 DE 6'6 240 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Stevens Point Area Senior (Stevens Point, Wis.) No. 64 SDE

Though maintaining three defensive linemen in this class in David Pfaff, Kraig Howe and Olive Sagapolu, three others -- Nate Howard, Jake Pickard and Elu Aydon -- de-committed to join other programs.

It's not often you have a three-star recruit accept a preferred walk-on offer, but Ruzek stayed in-state to be a Badger. Like Strong, he committed in November. The Stevens Point native has the size and frame to grow into a solid 3-4 defensive end for Wisconsin -- and along with Pfaff, Howe and Sagapolu, will provide some impact at the position after losing Howard, Aydon and Pickard.

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: Honorable mention all-state as a junior and senior ... first-team All-Wisconsin Valley Conference selection as a junior and senior ... second-team all-conference as a sophomore ... finished career with 166 tackles, 57 TFLs and 17 sacks ... also a three-year letterwinner in both basketball and baseball

Meet the other walk-ons

Mitchell Herl

Class Position Height Weight
2015 TE 6'4 230 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Middleton (Middleton, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: First-team all-state selection by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior ... named All-Area by Wisconsin State Journal ... first-team All-Big 8 Conference selection as a senior ... caught 36 passes for 632 yards and seven touchdowns ... second-team All-Big 8 as a junior, recording 23 receptions for 323 yards and 3 TDs ... finished career with 59 catches for 955 yards and 10 TDs

Zach Hintze

Class Position Height Weight
2015 K 6'0 170 lbs
School Composite Ranking
St. Mary's Springs (Fond du Lac, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: Kohl's All-American as a senior ... named MVP of Wisconsin Division 6 state championship game after leading St. Mary's Springs to title and setting state championship record with 49-yard field goal ... 2014 Kevin Stemke Award winner as the state's top senior kicker ... kicked state-record 61-yard field goal in 2014 state playoff game ... went 15-for-20 on field goal attempts as a senior ... finished career 21-for-30 on field goals with no misses under 40 yards ... two-time unanimous All-Badgerland Conference pick at kicker ... as a senior, named All-Badgerland as a defensive back ... also lettered in basketball, soccer and track and field

Henry Houden

Class Position Height Weight
2015 WR 6'4 185 lbs
School Composite Ranking
James Madison Memorial (Madison, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: Named first-team All-Big Eight Conference as a defensive back as a senior in 2014 ... also played quarterback and wide receiver... completed 57 percent of his passes for 695 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 363 yards and five TDs at quarterback ... made 18 catches for 287 yards and four TDs as a wide receiver ... in six games on defense, recorded 46 total tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles two interceptions and seven pass breakups ... as a junior, led Big Eight with 67 tackles and added a forced fumble, two interceptions and five pass breakups ... also two-year captain in basketball, helping lead Memorial to Big Eight title as a junior ... grandfather, decorated sprinter Richard Houden, is member of UW Athletic Hall of Fame

Tyler Johnson

Class Position Height Weight
2015 OLB 6'3 200 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Menasha (Menasha, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: Honorable mention all-state selection by Associated Press as a senior … at quarterback, led Menasha to Wisconsin Division 2 state championship with 7-for-9 passing performance for 107 yards, 25 carries for 129 rushing yards and four total touchdowns … first-team All-Bay Conference selection as a senior … completed 54.4 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,521 yards (117.0 per game) and scoring another 20 TDs on the ground … finished career with 2,926 rushing yards, 2,606 passing yards and 62 total TDs

Troy Laufenberg

Class Position Height Weight
2015 RB 5'10 180 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Waunakee (Waunakee, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: 2014 Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year … first-team all-state selection by Associated Press and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior … 2014 Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch Award winner as state’s most outstanding senior running back … All-Badger North Conference as a running back, kicker and punter as a senior … co-Badger North Conference Player of the year as a senior … also earned all-conference honors as running back and punter as a junior … as a sophomore, named Waunakee Special Teams Player of the Year on team that finished as state runner-up … also lettered in basketball and track and field

Bret Verstegen

Class Position Height Weight
2015 S 5'11 175 lbs
School Composite Ranking
Kimberly (Kimberly, Wis.) NR

UWBadgers.com profile:

High School: First-team all-state selection by Associated Press and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior … received 2014 Jim Leonhard Award as state’s top senior defensive back … helped lead Kimberly to Wisconsin Division 1 state championship as a senior in 2014 and Division 2 title as a junior in 2013 … finished season with 38 tackles and seven interceptions … also caught five touchdown passes and averaged 24.8 yards per kickoff return and 16.1 yards per punt return … as a junior, finished with 20 tackles, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries … two-time first-team All-Fox Valley Association selection at defensive back … two-time all-region selection … also a three-year letterwinner in track and field