Looking at the 2016 roster for the Wisconsin Badgers, this year's incoming class of commits could find some playing time early, but the one position that may see the biggest returns early and with the most impact comes at punter.
Yes, three-star commits Ke'Shan Pennamon, Dontye Carriere-Williams and Caesar Williams could fight for spots on the two-deep at cornerback depending upon their adjustment to the college game. Four-star defensive end Garrett Rand also has the physical tools to make a case for playing time -- he already benches over 500 pounds.
Four-star standouts Cole Van Lanen and A.J. Taylor could turn some heads on the offensive line and at wide receiver, respectively, depending upon summer conditioning and how they fare in fall camp.
But with Drew Meyer also departing and redshirt sophomore P.J. Rosowski having had only one punt in his college career, opportunity knocks for Oakwood (West Hall), Ga., punter Anthony Lotti.
"I'm going in there expecting to compete for the starting job," Lotti said. "Right now, I'm just getting ready to compete for that because I know nothing's going to be handed to me, so I'm just trying to get ready for that competition."
Lotti, a two-time first-team all-state selection in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and rated the sixth-best punter in the nation according to Scout.com, could challenge for the starting job and provide the boost Wisconsin has needed for the past three seasons.
Consider the following: Wisconsin finished 107th in the nation -- 12th in the Big Ten -- in net punting at 35.48 yards per punt. UW averaged 39.27 yards per punt, third-last in the division.
Meyer, dealing with three special teams coaches in his time at UW, regressed after his redshirt freshman season where he averaged 41.5 yards per punt. Thirty-six of his 80 punts in 2012 dropped and were downed inside opponents' 20-yard line. In 2013 and 2014, however, he dropped to 38.6 and 37.4 yards per kick, respectively -- only 37 of his 107 punts in those seasons were down inside the 20. He did rebound in 2015 with special teams coach Chris Haering and quality control specialist Taylor Mehlhaff, up to 39.7 yard average.
With Rosowski and redshirt freshman punter Connor Allen on the roster as of now, Lotti -- who averaged 45.4 yards per punt, 43.8 net yards in 49 total punts as a senior in 2015 -- knows there's that possibility of being the starter when Wisconsin faces LSU at Lambeau Field on Sep. 3. He also realizes, however, he has to work and earn that spot.
"I expect me to work hard enough to earn that starting job and then help my team win," Lotti said. "Just put them in the position to win games."
Conversations with UW started after his junior season after his first of two all-state selections where he averaged 45.2 yards per punt. After heading to a Boston College camp to punt in the summer, he came to Wisconsin's special teams camp came and earned an offer from Haering after winning a punting competition put on by the staff. He earned scholarship opportunities earlier from the Eagles and the Air Force Academy, but something was different coming up to Madison.
"I got really excited about Wisconsin," said Lotti, the youngest of three kids in the family. "I've always enjoyed watching Wisconsin and the players they put out. They just seem like a team that enjoys to play as a team, and they really enjoy being around each other.
"I wanted to be a part of that."
Lotti didn't commit on the spot, however. His father, Tony, his high school coach at West Hall, sat down with him and listed the pros and cons of each school. Starting to compile the lists and comparing the programs and their respective universities, the answer became quite clear.
"We didn't get probably halfway through that and he looked me, and I looked at him, and it was very obvious looking at the paper of comparing all the schools," the elder Lotti said.
"He said, 'I'm going to Wisconsin.' I said, 'Yeah, that sure is what it is. It's not even close.'"
Lotti made the call to Haering, and the coach's excitement even surprised the Georgia native. Eventually, he spoke with Chryst himself, then made his verbal pledge known publicly on Twitter.
After committing to Wisconsin, interest from other programs started coming in. Especially towards the end of the recruiting cycle, schools and their assistants start looking more at specialists -- those kickers, punters and long snappers.
Lotti -- who according to his father and coach, had 15 punts over 50 yards his senior year with a long of 73 -- in-state programs like Georgia and Georgia Tech took notice. Playing close to home, and also drawing SEC and ACC interest was an intriguing option for him.
"With it being in-state, it really had its effect on me," Lotti admitted, "but then I realized I've already made all these connections to coaches and players and I decided what's best for me -- and that's to stay with the University of Wisconsin."
Lotti was proud of his son for keeping to his word, something instilled with him during his recruiting process. The relationship between father and son in adolescent and teenage years is one thing, but having your father as your head football coach adds a completely new dimension to the relationship.
Anthony's enjoyed having his father, himself a former punter, training and coaching him since he started playing football as a child. According to his dad, however, boundaries and rules were set to separate what was discussed on the field, and at home.
"it was hard for me, and it was hard for him to try to make sure we drew those lines," Coach Lotti said. "On the field, I'm Coach, but off the coach, I'm Dad. I've tried to do a much better job, especially this last year, of making sure the two didn't get mixed."
The Wisconsin commit played so well he earned his second straight first-team all-state selection last season, and had a chance to punt in the 2015 Georgia High School Senior All-Star game. In his final two years at West Hall, Lotti averaged 45.35 yards per punt. His senior season, only one of his kicks went into the end zone for a touchback.
"It's hard to get excited flipping on an 8-minute film of a kid punting the ball over and over again, but Lotti is a special breed," BadgerNation.com's Ben Worgull said. "Averaging 45.5 yards on his 49 punts this past season, including 19 inside the 20-yard line and 16 over 50, Lotti's versatility to kick it deep or pin opponents near the goal line with a simple change in his drop is one of his biggest strengths."
Wednesday shapes up to be a busy day for the Lotti family. A ceremony at the high school around 8:20 p.m. ET for all three West Hall seniors signing letters of intent will then give way to heading to Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame for another signing event. The day finishes up with one or two other possible stops, as Anthony admitted will be a "crazy day."
For the coach, watching a player sign a Division I offer is special. He has three on Wednesday. When Anthony's turn comes around, Tony Lotti isn't necessarily sure how he'll react, though he knows he'll have time to reflect on his son's achievements after the series of events that'll keep the family busy all day. There will be some emotions running through him.
"When I'm in there, and it's his turn, there's just no way that I'm going to be able to not be Dad," Coach Lotti said, "because I understand how few kids get the opportunity that he's got and to watch how hard he's worked."
The next few months will involve more preparation for Lotti and his collegiate career as a Badgers punter. He'll have an immediate opportunity to showcase his abilities and make an immediate impression on Chryst, Haering and the rest of the UW coaching staff.
That'll come soon enough, though.
"Right now," Lotti said, "I'm just excited to sign that piece of paper Wednesday morning and be officially committed to the Wisconsin Badgers."