According to class of 2019 tight end Clay Cundiff, the first moment he realized he was probably going to commit to Wisconsin came more than nine days before announcing those intentions.
That was on the morning of Sept. 28, when Wisconsin wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore came to his school and said he wanted the Kansas native to come up for an official visit.
“I think everybody knows that official visits are a business trip,” Cundiff told B5Q on Monday night. “At that time, you know that they’re very interested in you if they’re going to invest their money in you to come up, and so at that time I kind of knew it was going down.”
Though not offered yet by UW until this past weekend, Cundiff came to town to officially visit with his mother, Sarah Kriwiel. From the time he landed in Madison on Saturday morning to the 5:30 p.m. flight out on Sunday, Wisconsin offered and he subsequently flipped his verbal commitment from Kansas to the Badgers.
That made him become scholarship commitment No. 14 for the Badgers in this recruiting cycle.
The actual offer from tight ends coach Mickey Turner didn’t officially come until Saturday night after Wisconsin’ 41-24 victory over Nebraska, however, in the locker room which turned into a scene of elation.
“It was me, [Wisconsin commits] Graham [Mertz], Hayden [Rucci] and Spencer [Lytle], were all just sitting there talking and laughing, and then Coach Turner came up to us and he was like, ‘It seems like you fit in with these guys pretty well,” Cundiff said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re good guys.’
“Then he said, ‘Well, you wouldn’t mind spending the next four years with them, would ya?’ I was like, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re offered.’ Then Hayden and Graham started pushing me and started just jumping around and going crazy.”
Rucci admitted there was quite the animated scene.
“I was so jacked, I punched him straight in the chest,” Rucci told B5Q on Monday. “I was jumping around, me and Graham were excited.”
After a night’s rest with redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tyler Beach as his host, he ate breakfast with the coaches and his family, met with an academic counselor then spoke to Wisconsin assistants Gilmore, Turner and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph on Sunday morning.
After those talks with the staff, he decided to give the Badgers good news during a conversation with Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst.
“I went into Coach Chryst’s office and we were chatting for about 15 minutes, and then after we were done chatting, I told him that I’m ready,” Cundiff said, noting Chryst’s face lit up. “Then I went out and told the other coaches, and they were all really excited about it.”
“The coaches in Madison are amazing, they’re genuine people and they really care,” Cundiff said. “I feel like I will be taken very good care of over the next four-to-five years there.
“And the game-day atmosphere was incredible, there’s nothing like it.”
Back in late June, however, Cundiff initially verbally committed to Kansas. According to the Wichita, Kan. (Bishop Carroll), product, he attempted to contact head coach David Beaty and one of his assistants to let them know about his decision prior to going public, but he could not get a hold of them.
“I really didn’t want to do it without talking to them, but I was trying to get a hold of them for half of the day, and they wouldn’t get back to me,” Cundiff said.
On Tuesday, B5Q followed up with Cundiff, with the prep tight end saying that he was expected to speak with the Kansas staff in the evening.
Now part of Wisconsin’s class of 2019, Cundiff’s current plans include signing during the early signing period but will enroll after his senior year of high school. He explained that he believes the coaching staff will likely utlilze him in a “little bit of everything” as an H-Back tight end, “in tight” and also potentially splitting him out.
The prospect mentioned how the Bishop Carroll coaching staff uses him currently is a similar fashion to how he would be used at UW.
“I was actually talking to a few of the coaches, and they said what stood out to them in my film was the way that I’m being used at my high school would be the same way that I’d be used up in Madison,” Cundiff said. “They said that was a huge factor in recruiting me, and so I feel like that was a big advantage and feel like I’ll fit in really well there.”
Prior to his visit and his commitment, Cundiff had a connection with this recruiting class through Mertz—the four-star quarterback who went on to become part of the Elite 11 and The Opening Finals—through the Epic 7 Midwest, a 7-on-7 team.
“Just this last spring, he messaged me, and he said, ‘Hey our 7-on-7 team needs a tight end,’ and I was like this is a big opportunity becaue this is the best players in Kansas and Missouri playing together and practicing every week,” Cundiff said. “It really helped me. I really benefitted me becoming a better player, so I’m really happy that he reached out to me and I was able to play with him last spring.”
During the short visit, Cundiff mentioned that Mertz introduced him to those 2019 verbal commits in town for the weekend. Rucci told B5Q that along with the previously mentioned Mertz, Cundiff, Lytle and himself, Joe Tippmann, Logan Brown, Leo Chenal and Blake Wilcox were all in attendance.
Along with being added to the commits’ group chat, Cundiff already has formed a quick friendship with Rucci, the other tight end in the class of 2019.
“It felt like I’ve known Hayden for a long time,” Cundiff said. “Me and Hayden got along really well, and I hung out with him the whole night. He’s a really good guy, and then all of the other guys were really accepting of me. They’re good people.”
“I just met him on Saturday, but it’s so fun,” Rucci said. “I feel like we’re best friends. It’s a really good situation that we got him.”