Hartland, Wis. -- Cameras, friends and family surrounded Arrowhead High School senior George Panos Wednesday morning. This day was nearly two years in the making for the 2014 Wisconsin commit, and the all-state guard was excited to become a member of the UW football program when he signed his letter of intent.
"It feels awesome to finally have it all said and done," Panos said Wednesday. "I'm officially a Badger."
The 6'5, 290-pound lineman originally gave his verbal commitment back in April 2012 during the weekend of Wisconsin's spring intrasquad scrimmage. It was natural for Panos, who declared he's been a Badger all his life as he attended games, and whose father, Joe, was a successful walk-on and team captain that helped lead the program to its first Rose Bowl victory in 1994.
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George carved out his own legacy at Arrowhead, starting all four seasons and leading the Warhawks to consecutive state championships in 2012 and 2013. Individually, he was selected as first-team all-state by the Associated Press and the Wisconsin Coaches Football Association in his junior and senior years, as well. Head coach Greg Malling saw the motivation to continue to improve in Panos -- as well as teammate and fellow UW recruit Billy Hirschfeld -- even with on-field success coming early on.
"I think it's very difficult to continue to develop when everybody thinks you're already kind of there, and they've done a great job of growing every year," Malling said.
Letters poured in from nationally-regarded programs -- and they still were as of Wednesday -- but Panos stayed firmly loyal to Wisconsin with head coach Bret Bielema leading the program.
But Bielema left three days after the Badgers' third straight Big Ten championship in December 2012. With the program in flux and a coaching change coming, Panos admitted it was a difficult period with phone calls and letters flying at him from all directions.
"For a while once coach Bielema left, I kind of opened it up a little bit and listened to other schools, and that was a pretty hectic time until I got solid again," Panos said.
However, Panos said it would have taken a lot to switch his commitment to another school due to his love of the university and the tradition the football program holds, especially with its history of successful offensive linemen. It didn't take long for him and his family to build solid relationships with both head coach Gary Andersen and offensive line coach T.J. Woods. Even with scholarship offers rolling in from Miami, Florida State and Arkansas, he remained a Badger.
"It didn't take us long at all for us to buy into coach Andersen," said Joe, now a player agent with Athletes First. "He's a great, great guy, great coach, which he showed this year, so we're excited."
Joe was also impressed with his son's maturity through the whole recruiting process up until National Signing Day. "He's matured, and it's funny because I just remember him being just my little baby, and now he's making all these big moves on his own," Joe said.
The coaching staff believes Panos can make an impact early in his career. Andersen mentioned in his press conference Wednesday how Panos, along with early enrollees Jaden Gault and Michael Deiter have the physical tools to compete in 2014.
George now sets his sights on breaking into the offensive line two-deep and making the traveling squad as a true freshman once he gets on campus later this year.
"I'm going to do whatever it takes," Panos said.
"[Woods] said the opportunity is there. I just have to capitalize on it, and I'm going to make sure I do."
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