The Wisconsin Badgers have been getting prepared for 2017 spring football since beating P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan team in the Cotton Bowl in January and to be perfectly honest, there is no better time than, uh, two months ago to start beating the new Minnesota head coach’s football teams. The Badgers began spring practice March 14 and an area of strength for them should be the specialists.
Rafael Gaglianone, coming off of back surgery, is entering his redshirt junior year (this is an assumption as no announcement has been made about his status, but there is no reason to believe his redshirt request will be denied) and if the start of last season is any indication, it appears he has his groove back after a rough sophomore campaign. The only key contributor to the kicking game that exhausted his eligibility is long snapper Connor Udelhoven, and he’s already been replaced by an exciting incoming recruit!
Wisconsin’s 2017 Specialists
|Rafael Gaglianone||K||SR||5'11||230||Sao Paulo, Brazil|
|Zach Hintze||K||R-SO||6'0||186||Fond du Lac, Wis.|
|Collin Larsh||K||FR||6'0||180||Marshall, Wis.|
|Adam Bay||LS||FR||6'1||225||Mesa, Ariz.|
|Josh Bernhagen||LS||R-FR||6'2||243||Madison, Wis.|
|Connor Allen||P/Holder||R-SO||6'0||171||New Berlin, Wis.|
|Anthony Lotti||P||SO||6'0||193||Flowery Branch, Ga.|
|P.J. Rosowski||P||R-JR||6'3||214||Stoughton, Wis.|
Andrew Endicott: 13-of-19 on field goals with a long of 46 yards; 35-of-37 on extra points; two kickoffs for 94 yards
Rafael Gaglianone: 7-of-8 on field goals with a long of 48 yards; 10-of-10 on extra points
Anthony Lotti: 51 punts for 1,923 yards; 37.7 yards per punt; one touchback, 25 punts downed inside the 20-yard line
P.J. Rosowski: 15 punts for 550 yards; 36.7 yards per punt; three punts downed inside the 20; 79 kickoffs for 5,032 yards; 51 touchbacks
Connor Udelhoven, long snapper (eligibility)
Andrew Endicott, kicker (eligibility)
Key Additions for Spring
Josh Bernhagen, long snapper
Key Additions for 2017
Colin Larsh, kicker, walk-on freshman
Adam Bay, long snapper, freshman
To say that special teams were an adventure last year for the Badgers would only be fairly accurate. While P.J. Rosowski took over the kickoff game and handled it with aplomb and highly-regarded freshman Anthony Lotti grew into the role of full-time punter, the placekicking game was thrown into disarray early into the season with a back injury to starter Rafael Gaglianone.
Gaglianone, an honorable mention all-conference performer after his freshman year, was only able to kick in three games last year. The injury was a real shame because Gags had lost a bunch of weight over the offseason and already looked like he had bounced back from a disappointing sophomore campaign that saw the Brazilian miss nine of his 27 field goal attempts.
Senior Andrew Endicott was forced into the role of placekicker despite never having attempted a field goal in a college game before his 41-yarder against Michigan State. Endicott struggled to find his range on kicks through his first couple of games, missing an extra point against the Spartans and hooking two field goals wide against Iowa. While fans (like me) probably harped too much on his missed kicks, Endicott never directly cost the Badgers a game with his kicking (though some may argue that if he had made the 48-yard attempt on the first drive of the second half in the Big Ten title game, some of Penn State’s momentum may have been stemmed).
Let’s not delve too deeply into what went wrong in the second half of the conference championship game lest we all end up throwing our respective devices off a cliff. ANYWHO, Gaglianone is back for this upcoming season and hopefully fully recovered from his back surgery. The punting game should be in strong hands (feet?) with Lotti returning for his sophomore season. The Georgia native was turning into a bit of a weapon by the end of the season, pinning opponents deep in their own territory and continuing the proud Big Ten tradition of “punting to win.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Kirk Ferentz is kicking himself over not getting Lotti to come to Iowa.
Another special teams weapon the Badgers have is kickoff specialist P.J. Rosowski. In a story of “local boy done good,” the pride of Stoughton spent most of last season depositing kickoffs into, or out of, end zones around the Midwest. Fifty-one of his 79 (64.6 percent) kickoffs were touchbacks. He even punted a bit at the beginning of the season while Lotti found his footing and had a great performance against LSU in the opener.
The last player in the special teams group is highly-touted recruit Adam Bay. The Under Armour All-American, who won a spot on the team by being the best dang long-snapper in the country, comes to Madison after flipping his commitment from Missouri. The Arizona native will get a chance to come in and play right away since Wisconsin’s previous long-snapper exhausted his eligibility.
“We don’t spend a whole lot of time obsessing over where they ranked. What sold us on Adam was him coming into the camp this summer. He was the best long-snapper in our camp and we had competition,” special teams coach Chris Haering said on National Signing Day.
“We put those guys through drill work. It’s at that point in time where you really start diving into who he is. You find out from people at his school that he works extremely hard. He was a starting defensive end for them, so he’s an aggressive kid. Dig into his story even more, and you find out that four days a week he was driving 90 miles round-trip to work with a snapping coach. You think, hey, there’s a kid that is really talented and he fits the Wisconsin model of being smart, tough, dependable.”
Bay will have big shoes to fill from the consistent Udelhoven, and will have to work on his chemistry with his new teammates.
“That’s the challenge certainly, and he’ll be here obviously with the rest of the freshman in June, so we’ll start working right away,” Haering said. “Those guys will work on their own on the operation and make it as seamless as we can get. He’s got some big shoes to fill. Uds [Connor Udelhoven] did a heckuva job for us—in the two years I was here, we didn’t have one bad snap, and that’s pretty unique. Adam’s prepared to come in and knows the expectations and he’s excited for it.”