On Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin Badgers offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard had their regular media availability however no one really wanted to talk about the upcoming game against Minnesota. Just about every question was about the 2021 recruiting class, who all signed their national letters of intent on Wednesday.
We were also able to talk to Saeed Khalif, the director of player personnel, and one of the main figures credited with improving Wisconsin’s recruiting to where it is today: back-to-back-to-back best classes ever, with the 2021 class currently sitting at No. 16 nationally and No. 3 in the Big Ten.
Here is what they all had to say:
- On how this class came together, “What they liked about Wisconsin, we like about Wisconsin, and that’s what we like about them.”
- He mentioned “three running backs, all different styles that can jump in and help us at that position.”
Jackson Acker: “is a guy who obviously has position flexibility.” He is an “explosive, big back...I really like that.”
Loyal Crawford: “chance for a home run hitter”
Antwan Roberts: “a complete back”
- On quarterback Deacon Hill, “Deacon [Hill] is someone that Coach Bud [QB coach Jon Budmayr] wired into early on”
“We thought he had great arm strength when compared to the best players in the country.”
“He fit everything we were looking for as a QB and we really liked him as a kid.”
- Rudolph is pleased with the offensive group that the Badgers brought in, “It’s really got all the pieces to put together for those guys to grow together and kind of group like ‘ok, this is our crew.’”
- As far as the offensive line recruits go, Rudolph discussed where they might each end up playing.
"I think all of them have position flexibility. But I would say Nolan (Rucci) and probably Riley (Mahlman) are the two most likely to stick at tackle." Rudolph on where his three stud o-linemen will end up from the 2021 class— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
Notes that Mahlman is enrolling early.
“JP [Benzschawel] had a brother [Beau Benzschawel], about the same size, who had a really good career at guard here.”
- According to Rudolph, TE Jack Pugh played his first year of football last season, “watching his film I thought he was really physical for a guy who hadn’t played much football.”
Rudolph wants him to be a “third down guy” who separates and has good hands.
- On if they’re looking for anybody else before the February signing day, “You can’t have enough play makers. That’s gotta be something here at Wisconsin that you strive to keep loading that group of guys.”
- Leonhard started off his availability by literally going down the list of defensive commits and talking about each one. He started off with a note on Jake Ratzlaff’s position, because he was specifically asked about it.
"We feel like he can play any 'backer position, probably initially inside linebacker." Leonhard on Jake Ratzlaff— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
OLB Ayo Adebogun, “continually growing into his body but the athleticism is quite high.”
CB Al Ashford III, “comes from a military family and is highly self-motivated.”
OLB T.J. Bollers, “can provide some flexibility for us.”
"Good size, very fast." - Leonhard on CB Al Ashford III— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
"We see Bollers as an OLB kinda plus." - Leonhard on OLB/DE TJ Bollers
"Love his length, his size, his speed." - Leonhard on CB Ricardo Hallman
You LOVE to see "length" and "speed" when talking about defensive backs.
ILB Jake Chaney, “love his physicality.” “His father is a head coach so he’s around football 24/7.”
CB Ricardo Hallman, “the most consistent playmaker that we’ve recruited in a little while.”
DE Mike Jarvis, “he fits what we do. He can get after people.”
OLB Darryl Peterson, “his twitch off the ball his pass rush ability...just playing at a different speed at the high school level than anyone could match.”
OLB Jake Ratzlaff, again, “ton of growth in his game.”
Back to former hockey recruit Ratzlaff, Leonhard thinks there might be another level he can get to since he hasn't been focusing on football yet. #Badgers— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
ILB Bryan Sanborn “we wanted to make sure that he knew we were recruiting him as an individual” and not his brother was the implication here.
S Hunter Wohler “extremely talented. what he does at the safety position in impacting games at that level was really fun to watch.”
- On how the past few great classes will help move team up in the Big Ten and nationally, “That has always been a strength of ours is IDing not only talent, but talent that fits with what we do and how we do it.”
- On how reclassifying comes about for certain players, “You have to start with the academic side...you have to be able to put in the extra work...some conversations are very fast.”
“From the football side it comes down, a lot of it, to maturity.”
Leonhard, talking about players reclassifying, mentions that Wisconsin looks at the player physically, mentally and emotionally before they move forward with that process #Badgers— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
“I don’t think it’ll be a huge player in a program like ours where the academics have to be at a certain level.”
- Khalif opens up his time by declining to give an opening statement because he just wants to answer questions.
"I'm just beaming over here, I don't have any speeches or anything." - Saeed Khalif after being asked to open his Zoom call— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
- On how things work around the Badgers recruiting program, “This was the culmination of, some, as long as an 18 month recruiting cycle.”
“One of the things I learned here is it becomes business as usual on signing day.”
- On if he is searching for kids whose teams have great records, “When I’m looking for position guys to fit needs, getting to the record is probably last, unless we’re looking at a QB...we want a winner. Typically the winning tradition of their program is why we’re recruiting their school.”
- On WR Skyler Bell, “He’s got the Bronx chip on his shoulder too, don’t hurt to have a little tough guy down here in Madison that we’re trying to throw the ball that will fight for it.”
- On if the Badgers are looking for anybody else in the 2021 class for before Signing Day in February.
"We don't feel like we're full, we ARE full." - Khalif on if the #Badgers will be looking for anyone else in the 2021 class. He noted that if some amazing player came out of the woodwork, they'll make room, especially a defensive lineman.— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 16, 2020
“But, we will never turn down a really, really good football player. Defensive linemen, a big, strong moose that likes eating double teams, there is always room for them.”
- Khalif really likes QB Deacon Hill. Describes him as an “easy communicator” and “he wants to do it” it, here, being talking to teammates and leading.
- On Braelon Allen, who reclassified to the 2021 class, and who he couldn’t mention because he hadn’t signed yet, “Hell yeah, what do we have to do? Let’s talk to your counselor see if you got the grades!”
But he wants to make sure that those who reclassify don’t suffer any “academic trauma.”
- On which position group he’s most excited about, “We hit some home runs with multiple position groups in this class. If they don’t help our team, man, we missed bad (laughs).”
- On how the team ended up with three RBs in this cycle, “We were not going to turn down a really good football player in our state, not at home. It just so happened that there was a really good one from out of state who wanted to be here and we wanted him here.”
- “We want to be a top program...we want it all to measure up.” “It all” here is on field production, recruiting and academics.