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Wisconsin football recruiting since 1990: top class of cornerbacks

Our position-by-position look at the best group of players signed in a single class in recent Wisconsin football history starts off at cornerback.

Wisconsin v Oregon X

The Wisconsin Badgers football program has seen an amazing wave of success since Barry Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990. His tenure in the athletic department shifted perception of Wisconsin athletics and paved the way for current success.

While the landscape of college football has significantly change since 1990, the lifeblood of winning hasn’t.

Recruiting and development are king.

The Badgers have seen tremendous results in developing talent since Alvarez took the reins and laid the blueprint, but recruiting has had areas of prosperity such as offensive line, running back, and linebacker. On the flipside, however, there have also been pockets of the roster that have been more challenging to recruit for.

Within each position though there has been moments of realized potential that create a source of strength on the roster based on the fruits of a singular recruiting class.

For example, in the 2021 recruiting class the Badgers currently have two four-star offensive lineman, and are heavily involved with five-star offensive lineman Nolan Rucci as well. If all three prospects were to sign with Wisconsin that could potentially be a major moment in the trajectory of the position, and ultimately alter the complexion of the offense as a whole.

With that as a launching off point, I began to wonder which classes in the past 30 years had the best collection of players in a singular position group.

In the first iteration this series we dive into the top class of cornerbacks.

UW Communications

Top class: 1997 recruiting class

1997 Recruiting Class: Cornerback

Name Position Freshman Height/Weight Hometown Notable Statistics
Name Position Freshman Height/Weight Hometown Notable Statistics
Jamar Fletcher Cornerback 5-foot-10 / 175lbs St. Louis, Missouri 34 games played, 21 interceptions, five defensive touchdowns
Mike Echols Cornerback 5-foot-10 / 165lbs Youngstown, Ohio 47 games played, 12 interceptions
Donte King Cornerback 5-foot-10 / 180lbs Los Angeles, California 24 games played, one interceptions

The tandem of Jamar Fletcher and Mike Echols formed one of the best cornerback duos in program history.

Fletcher himself is one of the two best cornerbacks to ever play at Wisconsin, and was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection thanks to his cover and ball hawking skills. A Jim Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in the country in 2000, Fletcher was special.

The memories of Fletcher frustrating big time players such as Plaxico Burress of Michigan State, and returning interceptions and fumbles for touchdowns will always hold a special place in the hearts of Badger fans. On the flipside, Fletcher probably still haunts the Purdue faithful’s dreams for his multiple picks of Drew Brees.

His running mate, Mike Echols also earned All-Big Ten honors with the second team in 2000 prior to moving on to the NFL. A really talented cornerback that was particularly adept at breaking up passes (25 total in his career) and a sure tackler, Echols was unfortunately a member of the Shoe Box scandal heading into his junior season (damn you NCAA). Like Fletcher, he had his fair share of interceptions, as his 56-yard touchdown return against Minnesota in particular jumps out.

After both coming in with the 1997 recruiting class, this pairing blossomed together starting in 1998 as redshirt freshmen before becoming vital parts of back-to-back Rose Bowl winning teams.

Both players went on to be selected in the NFL Draft following their careers, and are amongst the best players at their position in Wisconsin lore. Those two players push the 1997 cornerback haul to the top of the heap.

The third cornerback in the class, Donte King, did not go on to have nearly the success as Fletcher and Echols, but two thirds of a group earning B1G honors and time in the NFL is really notable.

Honorable Mention: 2008 recruiting class

Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith, and Marcus Cromartie were a solid haul. All three players were significant contributors during their time at Wisconsin, and were part of some really good teams.

Fenelus and Cromartie each had opportunities in the NFL after college, while Bret Bielema has gone on record discussing how impactful the broken foot of Devin Smith was on the teams success during his redshirt junior year.

This group lacked some of the firepower when compared against the 1997 group, but it was definitely one of the better cornerback groups to come in together.