MADISON — Wisconsin rarely makes big splashes on National Signing Day. And until 1:30 Wednesday afternoon, it was business as usual, with all 17 of the Badgers commitments in the class of 2017 already having sent in their national letters of intent. But just as coach Paul Chryst was stepping down from the podium after meeting with the media to talk about his third recruiting class, the Badgers got one of the biggest gifts they ever have, as 4-star wide receiver Danny Davis picked up the Wisconsin helmet from a table inside the Springfield (Ohio) High School gym, signifying he would be the 18th scholarship member of the class, even signing it as if to make it official.
“I feel great,” Davis told the Springfield News-Sun. “I had a fun time with the recruiting process but it’s stressful. I’m glad it came to the end, and I picked the right school.”
Long thought to be headed to Kentucky, the Badgers ramped up their recruiting of the No. 2 wide receiver in the state of Ohio, beating out the Wildcats and West Virginia for his services.
“We had a pretty good feeling, yet you don’t know for sure,” coach Paul Chryst told the Big Ten Network on their level of confidence that Davis would choose Wisconsin.
“(We) really spent (most of our time in) January on Danny. It was exciting to get the news that he chose Wisconsin.”
Davis is the highest-rated wide receiver the Badgers have signed since Kraig Appleton in 2009, and he becomes the second-highest rated recruit in Wisconsin’s 2017 class. He garnered that lofty status by rushing for 1,195 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, while also grabbing 22 passes for 559 yards and six touchdowns.
Coan the future?
Jack Coan always wanted to play college football, but when recruiters stayed away from Long Island, he was forced to consider other options. It’s why, when he was a freshman at Sayville (N.Y.) High School, he committed to play lacrosse at Notre Dame. But even then, his goal, and that of his coach, Rob Hoss, was to keep the focus on finding a home where he could play quarterback.
“Right when I committed to Notre Dame for lacrosse, Coach Hoss was like, ‘Alright, that’s great. You’re going to play football, though. Don’t worry about it,’” Coan said on Wednesday inside the McClain Center. “I did have some doubts. You don’t see anyone coming off (Long) Island to play football, so I didn’t think I was really going to get recruited. But I was always hoping for it and it was always my dream.”
An offer from Miami jump-started the 6-foot-3, 200-pound, Coan’s recruitment, including an offer from Wisconsin last January. Admitting he knew little about the program, Coan visited Madison during spring practice in March and fell in love.
“Within the first 15 minutes I knew I wanted to come here,” Coan said. “Everyone was talking when I was visiting schools like, ‘You’re going to get to a place and you’re going to know right away.’ And I got here and right away saw the atmosphere of this place. I walked into a room full of all the coaches and right away I just felt welcome. I felt like this place was home.”
Coan comes to Madison after being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in New York as a senior, finishing his career with a Long Island-record 9,787 yards passing and 128 touchdowns. He also ran for 2,551 yards and 33 scores. Asked if he considered himself a dual-threat quarterback, Coan had no interest in labeling himself one thing or another.
“I feel like I’m just a football player,” Coan said. “I can make the plays that need to be made. If I have to run, I’m going to run. If I got to pass, I’m going to pass. If they want me to punt the ball, I’ll do that. I don’t really care.”
Redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook started nine games last year and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph made it clear on Wednesday that they liked what he did. But they need depth at the position, and with Coan arriving in January, he’ll likely get plenty of reps in spring practice to make his case for early playing time.
“The opportunity is really up to me,” Coan said. “Everyone’s got an equal opportunity to play. Doesn’t matter if you started last year or not. I’m just going to try to work my hardest and we’ll see.”
When you look at the position rundown of Wisconsin’s class of 2017, it’s pretty clear what the Badgers tried to do in this recruiting cycle. Of the 18 scholarship players, eight of them are either offensive linemen or wide receivers. But this wasn’t done with the idea of bringing in as many as possible just to give them a better chance of hitting on one or two of them. Chryst genuinely thinks all of them are players.
“They had to be the right guys,” Chryst said. “We were able to accomplish balancing out some of the position group numbers, and yet, I do think (we got) a really good group that fits this place.”
In addition to Danny Davis, the wide receivers Wisconsin brought in were 3-star recruits in Cade Green (Austin, Texas), Emmet Perry (Grand Prairie, Texas) and grayshirt Deron Harrell (Denver, Colo.).
Meanwhile, 2017 proved to be a really good year for offensive linemen in Wisconsin. All four of the kids that signed are from the state and all of them are highly thought of, especially Kayden Lyles out of Middleton.
The son of former Wisconsin tight end Kevin Lyles, and the brother of redshirt freshman quarterback Kare Lyles, Kayden is the highest-rated recruit in the class and had scholarship offers from some of the best programs in the country.
“He’s big,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said with a laugh when asked what he liked about the 6-foot-3, 320-pound, Lyles. “He’s strong and really is a fluid athlete for being such a large and powerful man. I think that gives him a pretty good shot.”
And that shot could come early, as an injury to starting guard Jon Dietzen will keep him out of spring practice.
“He’ll get meaningful reps,” Rudolph said. “He’s probably physically mature enough to truly compete. We’ll see where he’s at. There’s a big learning curve. Our guys will do a great job and take care of him and help him along the way. It’ll be a great spring for him.”
— Wisconsin needs to replace Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale at running back next season, and while redshirt sophomore Bradrick Shaw and junior transfer Chris James appear to be the front runners to get the carries, running back coach John Settle had high praise for 4-star running back Jonathan Taylor out of New Jersey and thinks he might be able to play early.
“We had a young man (Corey Clement) that just left here, (Taylor) broke all his (high school rushing) records (in New Jersey). I wouldn’t put anything past him.”
— The lone tight end Wisconsin signed in the class is from football royalty. Jake Ferguson is the grandson of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez, and his brother, Joe, will be a senior this year for the Badgers.
At 6-foot-5, 220-pounds, Ferguson stands out physically for tight ends coach Mickey Turner, but it was something else about the Madison Memorial product that really has him excited.
“He’s competitive. He’s got a demeanor about him. He’s not just happy go lucky, like, ‘cool, I’ll go play college football.’ He likes playing football. He likes hitting people. He likes catching the ball and making plays in the moment. He wants to be that guy.”
— The Badgers rarely go to the junior college ranks to fill their roster, but felt it was worth it this cycle to bring in outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel.
From Iowa, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Van Ginkel started his career at South Dakota where he was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year in 2015. With a desire of playing in the FBS, he transferred to Iowa Western Community College last season and caught the eye of Wisconsin, who must replace starters Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt.
The coaching staff, including outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, expects him to compete for playing time this fall.
“(We) saw him doing on tape all the things that we want our outside linebackers to do, and he was doing it at a high level against college competition. That’s the thing that jumped out at us. That’s why we go and recruit a guy like that, who’s really a two-for-two kind of guy that we think can come in and contribute for us right away.”
As for the rest of the class, Wisconsin had seven early enrollees for the 2017 recruiting class. Wisconsin finished with the 7th ranked class in the Big Ten and the 40th ranked group in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Stars below indicate the number of stars given to each player by most national publications.
*** Jack Coan | QB | Sayville (West Sayville, N.Y.)
*** Madison Cone | CB | East Forsyth (Kernersville, N.C.)
*** Izayah Green-May | DE | Bolingbrook (Bollingbrook, Ill.)
*** Deron Harrell | WR | Denver East (Denver, Colo.)
*** Faion Hicks | CB | Charles W. Flanagan (Hollywood, Fla.)
**** Kayden Lyles | OG | Middleton (Middleton, Wis.)
*** Andrew Van Ginkel | DE | Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Signing Day Commits:
** Adam Bay | LS | Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.)
*** Tyler Beach | OT | Port Washington (Port Washington, Wis.)
*** Logan Bruss | OG | Kimberly (Appleton, Wis.)
*** Alex Fenton | OG | Menomonie (Menomonie, Wis.)
*** Jake Ferguson | TE | Madison Memorial (Madison, Wis.)
*** Cade Green | WR | Lake Travis (Austin, Tex.)
*** Scott Nelson | S | University of Detroit Jesuit (Detroit, Mich.)
*** Emmet Perry | WR | DeSoto (Grand Prairie, Tex.)
*** Jonathan Taylor | RB | Salem (Salem, N.J.)
** Danny Vanden Boom | QB | Kimberly (Kimberly, Wis.)
*** Aaron Vopal | DE | De Pere (De Pere, Wis.)
PWO Michael Balistreri | DE | Univ. School of Milw. (Grafton, Wis.)
PWO Ethan Cesarz | ILB | Delavan-Darien (Delevan, Wis.)
PWO Jake Collinsworth | ILB | Merrill (Merrill, Wis.)
PWO Sam DeLany | WR | Kettle Moraine (Delafield, Wis.)
PWO Matt Henningsen | DE | Monomonee Falls (Menomonee Falls, Wis.)
PWO Hunter Johnson | RB | Darlington (Darlington, Wis.)
PWO Collin Larsh | K | Monona Grove (Marshall, Wis.)
PWO Josh Seltzner | OT | Columbus (Columbus, Wis.)
PWO Blake Smithback | OG | Waunakee (Waunakee, Wis.)
PWO Coy Wanner | ATH | Preble (Green Bay. Wis.)
PWO = Preferred Walk-On