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How We Got Here: The recruiting classes that built the 2018 Wisconsin football team

In the first of a four-part series, we look at how the Badgers’ roster has been constructed through past recruiting classes.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This begins a four-part series on how the Wisconsin football program’s roster has come to be over the past couple of seasons and where it could be headed. Check back throughout the weekend and into next week for all four pieces of the series.

2017 was a special year for Wisconsin Badgers football. It was a special year for the players, who won more games than any team in UW history. It was a special year for fans, who truly saw Wisconsin mentioned among the top programs in college football and nearly reached the College Football Playoff.

However, I’ve been asked on more than a few occasions, “How come the Badgers stink this year?”

Although I’d argue that while they haven’t been phenomenal this season they have been very fine, the questions remains: Is this team less talented than last year’s?

In a word, yes. But let’s take a look why, starting with how the team has been put together throughout the years on the recruiting trail.

Recruiting from 2014–17

We’re going to look back on the last four recruiting classes that have composed this tea, sans this current group of freshmen because they’re less than a year into the program.

Class of 2014

This is the last class that Gary Andersen fully put together. This class was ranked No. 32 in the country (per 247Sports, which the entirety of this series will use for consistency), better than the 2013 and 2015 classes would end up.

Twenty-three players made up this class. This is who is currently on the roster from this collection of players, who are currently fifth-year seniors:

  • Taiwan Deal, DeMatha Catholic (Md.): Backup running back
  • D’Cota Dixon, New Smyrna Beach (Fla.): Starting strong safety
  • Michael Deiter, Genoa Area (Ohio): Starting left guard; four-year starter
  • Rafael Gaglianone, Baylor School (Tenn.): Starting placekicker
  • Beau Benzschawel, OL, Grafton (Wis.): Starting right guard
  • T.J. Edwards, Lakes Community (Ill.): Starting inside linebacker
  • Micah Kapoi, Kapolei (Hawaii): Reserve interior offensive lineman
  • Zander Neuville, Waupaca (Wis.): Starting tight end until season-ending leg injury

This class had some major recruits end up not contributing to the level expected. Jaden Gault never played due to non-football issues. D.J. Gillins was a four-star quarterback who transferred due to scheme changes. Dareian Watkins was a four-star athlete who left the team after only a few days of camp.

However, this class also had recruits such as Natrell Jamerson, Derrick Tindal, and Conor Sheehy, who were all significant four-year contributors.

Several walk-ons also have stepped up to contribute, including starting inside linebacker and Butkus Award semifinalist Ryan Connelly, safety Evan Bondoc, and kicker/punter P.J. Rosowski.

Class of 2015

This class was started by Andersen and finished up by current head coach Paul Chryst. Certainly, you see a shift in philosophy, as Chryst’s last moves were to lock up some in-state talent, including former prep standout quarterbacks Zack Baun and Alec Ingold. Baun was committed as a greyshirt but bumped up to come in with the rest of the class, while the new staff flipped Ingold from Northern Illinois. This class’s participants are either true seniors or redshirt juniors:

  • Jon Dietzen, Seymour (Wis.): Starting left tackle
  • Kyle Penniston, Mater Dei (Calif.): Second tight end
  • David Moorman, Northville (Mich.): Reserve offensive lineman
  • Bradrick Shaw, Hoover (Ala.): Former starting running back
  • David Edwards, Downers Grove North (Ill.): Starting right tackle
  • Olive Sagapolu, Mater Dei (Calif.): Starting nose tackle
  • Kraig Howe, Archbishop Alter (Ohio): Reserve defensive lineman
  • Alex Hornibrook, Malvern Prep (Pa.): Starting quarterback
  • Zack Baun, Brown Deer (Wis.): Starting outside linebacker
  • David Pfaff, Homestead (Wis.): Reserve defensive lineman
  • Chris Orr, DeSoto (Texas): Third inside linebacker
  • Alec Ingold, Bay Port (Wis.): Starting fullback

This class has had some major wins. Dietzen is a three-year starter on the offensive line. Edwards, after converting from tight end to offensive line after being a prep option quarterback, is a likely Day 2 NFL pick. Sagapolu is a four-year starter on the defensive line. Hornibrook could likely be a four-year starter at quarterback.

It also had some major misses, however. Four-star standout Arrington Farrar was a National Signing Day steal by Chryst but left the team earlier this season. Kevin Estes (Andersen) was an offensive lineman that was 250 pounds when he left the team. Titus Booker was a good win over Michigan, but he also left after a season. Austin Kafentzis was a major win for Andersen, but now plays defensive back at BYU. Nick Thomas and Jake Whalen are no longer with the program. Wide receiver Andrew James didn’t make it to his second semester in Madison on the team.

Walk-on contributors include Zach Hintze (kickoff specialist), outside linebacker Tyler Johnson (rotational outside linebacker), Jason Erdmann (reserve offensive lineman), and Gunnar Roberge (reserve nose tackle).

Class of 2016

This class is your true juniors and redshirt sophomores. This is the highest-ranked recruiting class brought in by Chryst, his first full class (No. 35 in the nation). The high spots from this class have already made their mark on the field for UW. Cole Van Lanen, A.J. Taylor, Tyler Biadasz, Garrett Rand, and Quintez Cephus have all been difference-makers or have had major playing time time through their careers:

  • Cole Van Lanen, Bay Port (Wis.): Starting left tackle
  • Garrett Rand, Hamilton (Ariz.): Was starting defensive end
  • A.J. Taylor, Rockhurst (Mo.): Starting wide receiver
  • Noah Burks, Carmel (Ind.): Reserve linebacker
  • Griffin Grady, Dublin (Ohio): Reserve linebacker
  • Eric Burrell, McDonough (Md.): Rotational safety
  • Isaiahh Loudermilk, West Elk (Kan.): Starting defensive end
  • Quintez Cephus, Stratford Academy (Ga.): Starting wide receiver
  • Tyler Biadasz, Amherst (Wis.): Starting center
  • Kendric Pryor, Homewood-Flossmoor (Ill.): Starting wide receiver
  • Seth Currens, Pickerington Central (Ohio): Reserve safety
  • Mason Stokke, Menomonie (Wis.): Reserve fullback
  • Anthony Lotti, West Hall (Ga.): Starting punter
  • Caesar Williams, CB, South Grand Prairie (Texas): Rotational cornerback
  • Luke Benzschawel, Grafton (Wis.): Reserve tight end
  • Deron Harrell, West Denver (Colo.): Starting cornerback

Walk-ons: Garrett Groshek, third-down running back; Jack Dunn, rotational wide receiver/punt returner; Adam Krumholz, wide receiver; Cristian Volpentesta, defensive back; Hegeman Tiedt, outside linebacker; Gabe Lloyd, tight end; Christian Bell outside linebacker, Alabama transfer; Mike Maskalunas, rotational outside linebacker.

This class had the highest recruiting ranking, and it shows when you see the depth and contributions throughout the class. These are third-year players and eight are starters, with multiple more near that level or getting consistent playing time.

The losses of backup tackle Patrick Kasl (academics), running back Sam Brodner (injury), tight end Jake Hescock (transfer), defensive lineman Keldric Preston (left team), safety Patrick Johnson (left team), and starting cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams (transfer) have softened what has been Chryst’s most fruitful class thus far.

Class of 2017

The last full class we’ll take a look at, the 2017 class had some early contributors to the aforementioned 13-win team in 2017, speaking to some of the talent being brought in by the Badgers. These players are either true sophomores or redshirt freshmen:

  • Kayden Lyles, Middleton (Wis.): Starting defensive end
  • Danny Davis, Springfield (Ohio): Starting wide receiver
  • Jake Ferguson, Madison Memorial (Wis.): Starting tight end
  • Jonathan Taylor, Salem (N.J.): Starting running back
  • Tyler Beach, Port Washington (Wis.): Reserve offensive tackle
  • Andrew Van Ginkel, Iowa Western C.C. (senior): Starting outside linebacker
  • Jack Coan, Sayville (N.Y.): Backup quarterback
  • Izayah Green-May, Bolingbrook (Ill.): Reserve outside linebacker
  • Logan Bruss, Kimberly (Wis.): Reserve offensive tackle
  • Aaron Vopal, De Pere (Wis.): Reserve defensive lineman
  • Scott Nelson, University of Detroit Jesuit (Mich.): Starting free safety
  • Cade Green, Lake Travis (Texas): Reserve wide receiver
  • Alex Fenton, Menomonie (Wis.): Reserve offensive lineman
  • Madison Cone, East Forsyth (N.C.): Rotational cornerback
  • Emmet Perry, DeSoto (Texas): Reserve wide receiver
  • Faion Hicks, Flanagan (Fla.): Starting cornerback
  • Danny Vanden Boom, Kimberly (Wis.): Third quarterback
  • Adam Bay, Desert Ridge (Ariz.): Starting long snapper

Walk-ons: Josh Seltzner, reserve offensive lineman; Matt Henningsen, starting defensive end.

This class also has the makings of a major building block for UW. The obvious high spot is Taylor, but guys like Lyles (likely back on offense), Ferguson, Bruss, Nelson, Cone, and Hicks all have potential to be three to four-year contributors. Bay will also be a four-year starter as a long snapper, barring injury. This is the smallest class that Chryst has recruited with only 18 members, but those members are almost all either long-term starters or have pretty significant upside/roles moving forward.

Class of 2018

I’m not going to list all of the players in this class, but those who have already gotten playing time as true freshman will warrant some mentioning:

  • Jack Sanborn, Lake Zurich (Ill.): Reserve inside linebacker
  • Aron Cruickshank, Erasmus Hall (N.Y.): Starting kickoff returner
  • Travian Blaylock, Atascocita (Texas)
  • Donte Burton, Loganville, (Ga.)
  • Reggie Pearson, River Rouge (Mich.): Rotational safety
  • Taj Mustapha, West Bloomfield (Mich.)
  • Bryson Williams, Lincoln Southeast (Neb.): Reserve nose tackle
  • Rachad Wildgoose, Miami Northwestern (Fla.): Now starting cornerback

This is a lot, so for those still reading, thanks for bearing with me. Looking at and understanding how the Badgers got to this point is critical to taking an objective and realistic view at the current state of the roster in Madison, which will in turn answer the question: “Why do the Badgers stink now?”

whispers They don’t.