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Breaking down Wisconsin’s true freshman contributions during the 2018 season

The Badgers certainly develop, but these players found time early on the field.

Matt Fleming

With needing to replace many pieces from their successful 2017 squad, a significant amount of youth played for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2018.

Most of that came on defense as coordinator Jim Leonhard saw seven starters and a couple contributors leave the program heading into last season. Redshirt freshmen provided valuable time at defensive end (Matt Henningsen, Kayden Lyles), tight end (Jake Ferguson), offensive line (Logan Bruss), and in the secondary (Scott Nelson, Deron Harrell, Faion Hicks). True sophomore quarterback Jack Coan burned his redshirt in playing five games for the injured Alex Hornibrook.

Though Wisconsin has the stigma of being a program that develops, that does not mean first-year players cannot find time on the field and make an impact. Thirteen true freshmen saw time on the field in 2018, and five played more than four games that burned their redshirt. As a reminder, a new NCAA rule instituted last year allows players to participate in up to four games to allow them to keep their one redshirt year, so seven of the 13 Badgers will be redshirt freshmen in 2019.

Seven saw time on defense, and five secondary members received reps last season. Cornerback Rachad Wildgoose and nose tackle Bryson Williams emerged to play significant snaps on Leonhard’s unit, and inside linebacker Jack Sanborn found himself in the two-deep and in the rotation with injuries to the unit. If not for injury, maybe safety Reggie Pearson also is a part of this group, especially after his performance in a starting role against Michigan.

Taking a look back at B5Q’s predictions

Last February after that National Signing Day, I wrote a “final look” piece on the class of 2018, which included predictions on who could find time early. I believed Williams and the cornerbacks could contribute, and I think I hit it on the nail.

Williams worked into the two-deep, then took over as the nose tackle after senior Olive Sagapolu’s season-ending injury. All four projected cornerbacks coming into the program that were mentioned found time on the field. Travian Blaylock played on special teams and potentially could have played more if not for injury. Wildgoose broke through to lead all true freshmen in starts (seven) and the team overall in pass breakups (also seven).

Back in December 2017 prior to Wildgoose’s commitment, our B5Q writers gave their thoughts on who would have the earliest impact. Two of us mentioned Williams, while the other two mention Donte Burton. The latter started against the Boilermakers in the second-to-last regular season game, but he still kept his redshirt after playing in only four contests. One mentioned defensive end Isaiah Mullens, but he did not play at all in 2018.

Based on Wisconsin’s statistics from last season, here is a fuller breakdown of the true freshmen production:

Those true freshman who burned redshirt

  • FB John Chenal—played in last eight games; initially came to UW as a walk-on, but according to a tweet from a family member, he may have been put on scholarship; B5Q has reached out to Wisconsin to confirm this.
  • WR Aron Cruickshank—played in all 13 games and became primary kickoff returner; six rushes, 51 yards, one touchdown; one reception, 11 yards; 26 kickoff returns, 20.5 yards per return (long of 34 yards).
  • ILB Jack Sanborn—played in last 11 games; seven tackles, one pass breakup, one forced fumble.
  • CB Rachad Wildgoose—played in 10 games and started the most of any Wisconsin true freshman (seven); did not play against Western Kentucky, BYU and Iowa, but started seven straight games (Michigan to Minnesota); 29 tackles, seven pass breakups (led team), two fumble recoveries.
  • NT Bryson Williams—played in all 13 games with three starts (with the starts coming against Rutgers, Minnesota and Miami); 12 tackles, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry.

Those who played but did not burn redshirt (will be redshirt freshmen in the fall)

  • DB Travian Blaylock—played in first four games of the season but was out for most of the season with a right leg injury; recorded one fumble recovery.
  • CB Donte Burton—played in four games (Western Kentucky, Nebraska, Michigan and Purdue); started against Boilermakers.
  • WR Isaac Guerendo—played in four games (Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Miami)
  • WR Taj Mustapha—played in first four games of the season; caught one pass for three-yard touchdown against New Mexico.
  • S Reggie Pearson—played in four games (Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue, Miami); started first college game at Michigan; five tackles, one for loss, one forced fumble.
  • TE Cormac Sampson—played in one game (Nebraska)
  • WR Brady Schipper—played in two games (Rutgers, Miami); like Chenal, also a walk-on.
  • CB Alexander Smith—played in four games (Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois, Miami); one tackle, one pass breakup.

Those who did not play at all from 2019 class

  • QB Chase Wolf
  • QB Nate Carter (walk-on)
  • RB Nakia Watson
  • WR A.J. Abbott
  • WR Mike Gregoire (walk-on)
  • TE Jack Eschenbach (walk-on)
  • OL Michael Furtney
  • OL Andrew Lyons
  • DE Boyd Dietzen
  • DE Isaiah Mullens
  • DE C.J. Goetz
  • ILB Jacob Heyroth (walk-on)
  • OLB Mason Platter—injured for all of 2018
  • OLB Jaylan Franklin
  • OLB Marty Strey (walk-on)
  • S John Torchio (walk-on)