With a historically strong walk-on program, Wisconsin routinely identifies and brings in some of their most talented and influential players not on scholarship. With a reputable footprint in the state, and a lineage of success stories such as current defensive coordinator and former All-American safety Jim Leonhard, Joe Schobert, Mark Tauscher, Chris Maragos, and J.J. Watt to name a few, Wisconsin generally has players willing to forego scholarships elsewhere to join the program.
This year is no different.
On Early Signing Day, the football team welcomed two walk-ons — offensive lineman Sean Timmis, and long snapper Duncan McKinley — into the fold for next season. Wednesday, Wisconsin added to that list, with six additional players signing their letters of intent on National Signing Day.
The total of eight preferred walk-ons (so far) will each look to play in in front of the Camp Randall faithful, and make an imprint on the team, university, and community.
Here is a quick breakdown on the talented prospects that are part of the 2020 recruiting class without a scholarship prior to attendance:
National Signing Day signatures
A two-star offensive guard prospect, Kerry Kodanko is another offensive lineman that will left scholarship opportunities aside to pursue the chance to play and earn a degree at Wisconsin.
Hailing from De Pere, Kodanko committed to Wisconsin in the middle of September, shutting down his recruitment fairly early for a walk-on. The 6-foot-3, 275 pound offensive lineman held other offers from Air Force, Eastern Kentucky, Illinois State, North Dakota, Northern Iowa, and Western Illinois at the time.
It will undoubtedly be an uphill battle for Kodanko and Timmis to make a dent in the offensive line rotation given the five scholarship players along the offensive line that also signed early, but both players are worth keeping on eye on moving forward.
Can't wait @KerryKodanko— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) February 5, 2020
▪️ First-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior in 2019
▪️ 2019 WFCA All-Region selection
▪️ Brother, Riki, played for the Badgers from 2010-12 pic.twitter.com/hrlgPxpaP5
A two-star linebacker, Ross Gengler has the size and skill set to play either inside or outside linebacker at the next level. At 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, Gengler wreaked havoc on the Southern Lakes Conference for Delavan-Darien High School, taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award for the conference as well as Honorable Mention All-State honors.
Holding myriad offers from both the FCS and Division II levels, Gengler instead opted to join the Badgers as a preferred walk-on all the way back in July. Given his size and talents, he would have certainly had the chance to garner more opportunities, but the chance to play at Wisconsin proved too much.
During his senior season Gengler had 112 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
He will be another walk-on to keep an eye on moving forward, especially given the hit rate for walk-on linebackers at Wisconsin.
A two-star cornerback, Amaun Williams is a ball-hawking defensive back. As a senior he recorded six interceptions, and 32 tackles on his way to earning the Jim Leonhard Award for the best senior defensive back in the state of Wisconsin.
Let's goooooo @AmaunWilliams1!— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) February 7, 2020
• Two-time first-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association
• Jim Leonhard Award as state's top senior defensive back
• Two-time conference defensive player of the year pic.twitter.com/mCznuiYImj
Generally undersized at 5-foot-9, Williams makes up for it with his high football acumen, long wingspan and athletic ability. A tremendous jumper, Williams was a standout on the defense for Milwaukee Riverside High School where he earned First Team All-State honors.
He opted to commit to Wisconsin early in September over some lower level offers from Eastern Illinois, a host of Division II schools, as well as a preferred walk-on spot with Minnesota.
Williams is a player that should be an asset in special teams, and should have a chance to potentially find a role at Wisconsin. Check out his senior film here.
A three-star specialist, Jack Van Dyke could play any number of roles at Wisconsin. Primarily a punter and kicker, Van Dyke demonstrates a strong leg in both regards.
A first-team All-State performer, Van Dyke will add to the competition in the specialist room quickly with an outside chance to find a role immediately with some specialists exhausting their eligibility.
On the year he made all eight of his field-goal attempts, and averaged 36.3 yards per punt. He was honored with the Kevin Stemke award for the top punter or kicker in the state of Wisconsin.
He is ranked by Kohl Kicking as the No. 4 kicker and No. 20 punter in the nation for his class.
See you soon @JackVanDyke15!— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) February 5, 2020
▪️ Five-star kicker and punter by Kohl's
▪️ Kevin Stemke Award winner as state's top senior kicker or punter
▪️ First-team all-state as a kicker and honorable mention all-state as a punter by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association in 2019 pic.twitter.com/Fe7r8r6X6y
One of the latest in-state prospects to join the fold, Riley Nowakowski is a talented 6-foot-4, 230 pound prospect hailing from Marquette University High School in Milwaukee. He chose to pursue his education at Wisconsin over scholarship opportunities at Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Army, Air Force, Navy, and a host of Ivy League schools.
Given his size, he projects best to outside linebacker, or as a bigger fullback. The Badgers have had some luck with walk-ons from within the state at both positions, so it is not out of the question that he could be a contributor down the line. A very smart and hard hitting player, Nowakowski should fit in nicely on the team, and could be a valuable addition in special teams at the very least.
As a senior he earned first-team all-state honors, and also took home the John Anderson Award for the states top linebacker. Nowakowski is the second walk-on recruit from his high school — joining Sean Timmis — and his 126 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles were a big reason for his team’s success.
With the Badgers opting to go without a scholarship signal caller in the 2020 class, the Badgers instead decided to add a quarterback late as a walk-on. Daniel Wright is a 6-foot-7 signee out of Iowa, that should help increase the competition level of John Budmayr’s group.
Originally committed to the DII Sioux Falls Cougars — where his older brother currently plays — Wright flipped his commitment just a few days ago in favor of Wisconsin.
At his size, he is a prototypical drop back passer, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. Wright is an important addition, as it is irregular for Wisconsin, or any national program for that matter, to not take a scholarship quarterback. Wright possesses a solid arm, and many of the intangibles that could make him a benefit to the program.
While it is unlikely that he will overtake Graham Mertz or Chase Wolf in the coming years, he does allow for some position versatility if the quarterback position doesn’t work out for him as well. The Badgers have done very well with converting quarterbacks to tight ends — cough — Owen Daniels.
After a lot of thought and consideration, I am excited to announce I am now COMMITTED to the University of Wisconsin!! Thanks to everyone involved in making this happen. Badger fans, LETS GO ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/C6WjUmbtrw— Daniel Wright (@Dan11Wright) February 3, 2020
Staying close to home, Jeb Frey is another in-state player that chose to walk-on at Wisconsin. Hailing from Waunakee, Frey is listed as a linebacker, and was the defensive player of the year in the Badger North Conference.
A recent addition, Frey will come to Wisconsin from a winning program that has had a reputation of success in the program. At 6-foot and 200 pounds, he is a bit undersized for the position as he currently stands, but he should benefit nicely from the strength and condition program.
Previously signed on Early Signing Day
A three-star offensive line prospect out of Milwaukee, Sean Timmis passed on over 20 offers from across the FBS, FCS, and Ivy Leagues to become a Badger.
At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the Marquette University School product demonstrates the attributes necessary to become a potential role player or starter down the role depending on his development. Timmis is one of the more impressive walk-on offensive lineman to sign with Wisconsin in some time given the other opportunities he passed up.
Another walk-on signature came from specialist Duncan McKinley on Wednesday. A four-star long snapper according to Kohl’s, McKinley will be one of the next in line for that spot after Adam Bay exhausts his eligibility next season.
Hailing from Eau Claire Memorial, he opted to stay inside the state to represent the Badgers as a long snapper. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds he will need to continue to add some weight for the blocking needs of his position, but he is a talented athlete who participates in basketball as well at the high school level.
Wisconsin will likely add a few more walk-ons over the coming months, but these are the players who officially signed their letters of intent so far in the 2020 class.