Excitement ran through the Caputo household on the evening of Feb. 5, hours before 2019’s National Signing Day.
Dante Caputo—cousin of former Badger safety Mike Caputo—finished a conversation with Wisconsin offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph.
Caputo informed the longtime UW assistant he was ready to commit to the program, and Rudolph relayed to the Wexford, Pa., outside linebacker that his application went through and he was admitted to the school.
It was time to tell his family and announce the big news.
“I woke up my parents because they went to bed early,” Caputo said. “It was like 9:30, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m officially a Badger,’ and we all cheered and everything. I called my siblings. I talked to them. I talked to Mike, my cousin, and I talked to my little brother, and it was just cheering that whole night. Then then next morning—I could barely sleep—the next morning, I woke up and we were all ready to go. So it was a fun moment for me for sure.”
The next day, National Signing Day, Caputo publicly declared his intention to play at Wisconsin via Twitter. He confirmed to B5Q that he accepted a preferred walk-on offer.
Communication picked up between Caputo and Wisconsin during the holidays, with Rudolph making an in-person visit.
“I started talking to Wisconsin Thanksgiving 2018,” Caputo said, “and a couple weeks later, like early December, I received an offer when coach Rudolph came down and he visited me personally. Met with me in school, and then he sort of offered me right there a preferred walk-on spot, and I was extremely excited.”
Before locking down his commitment, Caputo said his mother wanted to visit the university and campus area. So on Jan. 25, they traveled to Madison.
He saw Rudolph, head coach Paul Chryst, and defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard, then received the opportunity to watch a team workout. He toured the campus with Matt Miller, one of Wisconsin’s quality control assistants for recruiting, who drove him around campus.
“I went in the business school, saw that, and then when we came back, we toured the rest of the football facilities—the weight room, the squad training room, the players’ lounge, the locker room, everything like that,” Caputo said.
He finished the visit with some meetings with coaches and talked with Leonhard personally. Caputo stuck around on Saturday when Wisconsin hosted a junior day and went to the Kohl Center to watch the men’s basketball team defeat Northwestern before heading back to Pennsylvania.
Caputo’s Hudl profile lists him as an outside linebacker and strong safety, but Wisconsin plans on him playing in the defensive backfield.
“My senior year, I was able to play more of a coverage role,” Caputo said. “My junior year, I took on more of a pass rush, run defender, but this past year, this senior year, I was more of a coverage guy, outside linebacker.
“What Wisconsin is looking at is more of a strong safety position, which I’m fine with. I’m not uncomfortable making that change. It’s not a huge jump from what I did in high school.”
According to Caputo, Leonhard mentioned a couple of traits that stood out to him in playing the position.
“He watched my film, and he said it was a rare thing he picked up on of the intelligence and the tenacity,” Caputo said. “Just he said the strengths I play with and how I don’t quit in my game. I have a nose for the ball, he said. That’s what he said he liked. I’m not the biggest guy, but I sure play with some heart, and he said I’m more of a smarter guy on the field.”
That football intelligence and tenacity on the field sounds similar to his cousin, Mike. The elder Caputo played in 53 games with 40 starts for Wisconsin from 2011-15, receiving consensus second-team All-Big Ten Honors his final two seasons while claiming a second-team All-America selection from the PWAA in 2014.
After a short stint in the NFL, Mike entered coaching as a defensive graduate assistant at LSU for two seasons before Gary Andersen and Utah State named him the safeties coach at Utah State in mid-December.
Dante spoke with Mike prior to his commitment and also when he pledged to the Badgers.
“He had nothing but positive things to say about Wisconsin, and he said it would be a great fit,” Caputo said. “Definitely something challenging but something he knows I can do. When I committed, we talked on the phone and he was real happy for me. He’s out in Utah right now, so we were talking and he’s real happy and real excited. I told him, ‘You know, you got to come and watch me play sometime since I watched you a couple times.’”
Caputo had some communication with Pitt and previously talked with Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown, along with FCS program Villanova. Mike shared advice on the recruiting process, which has now ended with Dante playing for the Badgers.
“He said the process was going to be hard, especially for a walk-on,” Caputo said. “They’re going to want you to come up in the summer. They’re going to want you to take classes. They’re going to want you to work out with the team, and it’s a shot to make the fall camp, he said.
“Your big step, your No. 1 step, is going to have to be make fall camp, and you need to grind to do that as a walk-on and everything. That’s my big first step, he said. From there, he said just enjoy it, work hard, and make everyt moment count because, he said, your time there goes fast.”