Wisconsin basketball gets first commit for 2019

Wisconsin has its first basketball commit in the Class of 2019.

Early Thursday night, forward Tyler Wahl (Lakeville, Minn.) took to Twitter to announce he’d committed to the Badgers.

https://twitter.com/tjwahl01/status/1009929974919368704

A 4-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound Wahl chose Wisconsin over offers from Minnesota, Iowa State, Northwestern, Butler and others.

Considered the No. 4 player in the state of Minnesota and ranked as the 126th-best player in the country, Wahl is from the same high school — Lakeville North — as Wisconsin sophomore forward Nate Reuvers.

Wahl becomes just the latest prospect that coach Greg Gard has grabbed out of Wisconsin’s neighbor to the west, joining the likes of Brad Davison, Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren.

Seven Badgers honored as preseason All-Americans

Athlon Sports released its 2018 preseason All-America team this week and Wisconsin was heavily represented.

The Badgers placed seven players on either the first, second, third, or fourth teams according to Athlon. That number was more than any other school in the country.

Running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive tackle David Edwards both were named to the first-team, offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel, linebacker T.J. Edwards, and safety D’Cota Dixon were all recognized on the second-team, and offensive lineman Michael Deiter was placed on the third-team, and kicker Rafael Gaglianone was selected to the fourth-team.

The Big Ten had the most selections as a conference with 22. Thirteen of those selections were from either Wisconsin or Ohio State, as those two schools had the two highest number of selections in the country. Michigan was next with five selections, and Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Iowa all had one player selected.

The full list of Athlon 2018 preseason All-Americans can be found here.

Wisconsin adds DB to 2019 recruiting class

For the second day in a row the Wisconsin Badgers made an addition to the 2019 recruiting class.

Sunday afternoon the Badgers gained the pledge of defensive tackle Gio Paez, a North Carolina native. Wisconsin followed that up with the commitment of 3-star defensive back Semar Melvin.

https://twitter.com/SemarMelvin/status/1008824295408263168

Melvin, a Florida native, becomes the 12th commitment in the 2019 for Wisconsin. He chose the Badgers over Virginia, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech, among others.

Melvin’s junior season highlight tape can be found here.

Wisconsin adds DT to 2019 recruiting class

Wisconsin has added its 11th commitment in the Class of 2019.

Following his official visit to Madison this weekend, 3-star defensive tackle Gio Paez announced on Twitter he had committed to the Badgers.

https://twitter.com/Gio_paez7117/status/1008484016058699776

The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Paez (Cornelius, N.C.) chose Wisconsin over 19 other offers, including those from Nebraska, North Carolina State, Kentucky and Texas A&M.

Ranked as the No. 66 defensive tackle in the country by the 247Sports Composite, Paez is the second defensive lineman to commit to the Badgers in the class, joining Keeanu Benton (Janesville, Wis.).

Paez is from the same high school as Nolan Groulx, a 3-star wide receiver that de-committed from the Badgers earlier this year and just committed to Wake Forest on Sunday.

Badgers: Top QB commit shuts down his recruitment

Graham Mertz will, in fact, be coming to Wisconsin this December as an early enrollee.

Committed to the Badgers since last fall but still talking with other schools, the 4-star quarterback took to Twitter on Thursday night to let everyone know the recruiting process is over for him.

“Thank you to every coach that has taken the time to extend an offer to me,” Mertz tweeted. “This past year has truly been an amazing blessing. I got to know many great people and coaches who have my utmost respect.

“I am ready to move on past the recruitment process and just play ball. I owe it to all my teammates to completely shut down my recruitment and focus on winning another state title.

“This process has shown me that Wisconsin is the best fit for me as a student-athlete. It is time to bring together the best recruiting class Wisconsin has ever seen and bring a natty to Madison.

“With that being said, I am completely shutting down my recruitment.”

Mertz will come to Madison as the highest-rated quarterback the school has ever recruited and likely the most sought after. Though Wisconsin was one of the first to offer the Kansas product a scholarship, tons more came through in the last eight months, including from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, USC and many more of the blue blood programs in the country.

Getting the Elite 11 finalist and Under Armour All-American to stick despite all that attention is a significant win for coach Paul Chryst and his staff.

Badgers: What now along the defensive line?

Wisconsin could be without two key pieces of its defensive line this fall.

According to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, defensive ends Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk are out indefinitely. Rand suffered an Achilles injury that could keep him out the entire season, while Loudermilk underwent knee surgery this spring to deal with some lingering issues.

Both are big losses for a defensive line group already trying to replace three seniors — Chikwe Obasih, Conor Sheehy and Alec James — from last year. Rand and Loudermilk were penciled in as starters in the base 3-4 defense. With them out, what will Wisconsin do?

On the surface, this feels very much like 2014. The Badgers lost four experienced players from the previous year with seniors Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski the only experienced players back. But Herring suffered a knee injury in the season opener and missed the next five games, while Zagzebski was carted off with a neck injury, though he’d return the next week. It forced Wisconsin into playing young guys like Obasih, Sheehy, James and Arthur Goldberg. It wasn’t ideal, but Wisconsin managed. Where it’s different this time around, is this happened far enough in advance of the season they can plan accordingly.

Here’s our look at some of their options.

Olive Sagapolu

The senior is Wisconsin’s starting nose guard, and it’s his best spot. But even before the loss of Rand and Loudermilk, there was already a plan in place to use Sagapolu in different spots. Listed at 346 pounds last year, he was down to 338 in the spring and still trying to lose more as he transitioned himself into being more of a three-down player. So often in recent years, Wisconsin’s opponents would spread things out and it left Sagapolu standing on the sideline while the Badgers went to their sub packages with just two linemen. Now, though, Sagapolu should be available to defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in all situations, which is obviously even more important now in the wake of the injury news.

Aaron Vopal

The redshirt freshman ran with the first-team defense at points this spring when Rand and Loudermilk were out and didn’t look overwhelmed. At 6-foot-6, 299 pounds, Vopal is more than capable physically to handle the grind in the trenches. And it’s important to remember that while making plays is great, the real job of Wisconsin’s defensive linemen is to keep the opposing offensive line off the linebackers so they can flow to the ball. Vopal appeared to have that ability in the limited time we got to see him in practice.

Keldric Preston

The redshirt sophomore is currently more known for a video of him eating an orange — peal and all — that went viral following the Orange Bowl. But he did seem to have some pass rushing talent in 1-on-1 drills this spring and could be some help in Wisconsin’s nickel packages.

Bryson Williams

Williams enrolled at Wisconsin in December and took part in all the offseason work and spring ball. His future is at nose guard, and it’s where he lined up during practice, serving as Sagapolu’s backup. But it’s not where he played in high school. His film shows him as a 4-3 defensive tackle and there is some carryover between that and a defensive end in a 3-4. Williams, like Sheehy and Goldberg did during their careers, seems capable of playing both defensive line spots.

David Pfaff and Kraig Howe

The two juniors have been buried on the depth chart their first three years. Howe flashed a couple times during spring practice, including having a strip-sack of quarterback Kare Lyles in a scrimmage. It would be huge if either guy can make a jump this year to being a contributor on Saturdays.

True freshmen: Isaiah Mullens & Boyd Dietzen

A 3-star recruit, Mullens chose Wisconsin over offers from the likes of Iowa, Indiana, Purdue and others. According to a Land of 10 article, Mullens weighed 292 pounds at 6-foot-6 earlier this spring, and is thought of as a really good athlete. If some of the older guys don’t take advantage of their opportunities, it might be Mullens who steps into a role in his first year.

Meanwhile, Dietzen, the top-ranked player in Wisconsin in the Class of 2018, finished with 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks for Kimberly as it won another Division 1 title. Also a 3-star recruit, Dietzen seemingly now has a better chance of seeing the field this fall as well.

Badgers: 4 players that could have a breakout season

Football is coming, but probably not soon enough for you. In an effort to get you through the down time in the summer, we’re starting our offseason look at Wisconsin as it prepares for another year of chasing a Big Ten title. First up, four players that could have breakout seasons like wide receiver Quintez Cephus, running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Natrell Jamerson had in 2017.

WR Danny Davis
2017 season stats: 21 catches, 362 yards, 4 TDs

You could probably say this about any of Wisconsin’s young wide receivers, but Danny Davis’ ceiling is very high and he seems to be just scratching the surface. He had eight catches in the Badgers’ first nine games, before picking up the slack in the wake of Cephus’ season-ending leg injury. Over the final five games, he had 18 grabs and four touchdowns, three of which came in the Orange Bowl against Miami. And those catches weren’t just of the ho-hum variety. Nearly every week down the stretch (Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and the Hurricanes) Davis made a circus catch look easy. And he did it despite being relatively inexperienced as a wide receiver after being more of a running back in high school.

Davis has a myriad of skills that make him special, and the Badgers found a way to exploit most of them in 2017. Expect him to have an even bigger role this fall.

TE Jake Ferguson
2017 stats: N/A

The redshirt freshman really stood out in the spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way and making the hard grabs look easy. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Ferguson is in the mold of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and could provide the perfect balance of blocker and receiver.

Though his consistency needs work — multiple coaches mentioned it throughout the 15 sessions in spring — all signs point to Ferguson playing a significant role in filling the void left by Troy Fumagalli. And while senior Zander Neuville and junior Kyle Penniston will also figure heavily into Wisconsin’s plans this fall, it certainly seems as though Ferguson has the highest ceiling of the three, and many believe he’s in line to be the next great tight end for the Badgers.

S Scott Nelson
2017 stats: N/A

Like Ferguson, Nelson turned heads as a true freshman while playing on the scout team. So much so, he, along with Ferguson and guard Kayden Lyles, traveled to Minnesota for the season finale even though there was no chance they’d play. It was just to get them used to traveling, something that has historically served as an indication of what the team expects of freshman in their second season.

From almost Day 1, senior D’Cota Dixon has taken Nelson under his wing and served as a mentor on and off the field. You rarely saw one without the other after games and practices last season. Nelson ran with the first-team defense for much of the spring while Dixon was out, but when he returns there’s a good chance that duo will be the starting safeties against Western Kentucky.

CB Dontye Carriere-Williams
2017 stats: 30 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT

With Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal no longer around, Carriere-Williams is suddenly the most experienced cornerback on the roster. Used almost exclusively as the Badgers’ third CB last season, the South Florida native is in the same position as the likes of Garret Dooley, T.J. Watt and Leo Musso once were. All three were solid contributors before taking their games to the next level and becoming key pieces in Wisconsin’s defense. That’s what the Badgers need Carriere-Williams to do and he seems more than capable of getting done, especially now that he’s fully healthy.

The redshirt sophomore played much of last season with an abdominal injury that required surgery after the season. He missed much of spring practice, which he called frustrating, saying he knew how important those practices were. But he’s good now and most expect him to step into that No. 1 CB role and for there not to be much of a drop-off, if any, from what we saw last year.

https://twitter.com/BadgersDigitals/status/950953826634358784

Badgers grab commit No. 10 in Class of 2019

Wisconsin has added commitment No. 10 to its Class of 2019.

Three-star cornerback Dean Engram (Washington D.C.) announced his decision Friday morning.

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound, Engram chose the Badgers over offers from Penn State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and others.

Ranked as the No. 108 cornerback in the country, Engram is the son of former Penn State and NFL wide receiver Bobby Engram.

Former Wisconsin All-American Joe Thomas on post-retirement life

CLEVELAND – On March 14, the Wisconsin football program held its annual pro day in Madison. It was a day for players with NFL aspirations to showcase their skills in front of scouts and team personnel from all 32 teams in hopes of helping their chances of being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But the biggest story of the day had nothing to do with anyone inside the McClain Center. No, that came courtesy of a guy that had been on that same field 11 years earlier going through his own pre-draft workout. Joe Thomas, an All-American and Outland Trophy award winner for the Badgers, announced he was retiring after 11 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. The No. 3 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft was done after 167 games — 167 starts, to be clear. And it wasn’t all the losing Thomas did with the Browns that sent him into retirement. It was the injuries.

The Brookfield, Wis., native set an NFL record with 10,363 offensive snaps played for before tearing the tricep in his left arm. That snap would be the last one Thomas played in his career.

“It was an easy decision. My joints and my body is not in good enough shape any more to play with all these young 20-year-olds,” Thomas told The Zone on Tuesday. “I get around pretty well. But the game is so violent and so physical. When your joints start to deteriorate the way mine have, you just can’t keep up. It’s just untenable. I pretty much didn’t practice the last couple of years because I couldn’t. I had to save everything I had for Sunday.”

He did receive some positive news regarding his post-career honors earlier this week when Thomas was officially placed on the ballot for induction to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

Thomas is one of 76 players and six coaches to be placed on the ballot. The announcement on the Class of 2019 will come in early January.

“I heard maybe a few months ago that I might be nominated. Then I woke up (Tuesday) and I think I saw it on Twitter,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I was very humbled. When you start to look at the names of the other guys that are nominees, it’s like ‘wow, how is that guy not already in?’ There are some unbelievable names that are on [the ballot].”

Thomas also said he has many aspirations for his post-playing career that include being involved in football both near and far. One of them is becoming a super-fan of the Badgers once again.

“I’m really excited now that I’ve got so much more time in the fall to be a die-hard Badgers fan again, to be able to watch every game and follow the team really closely,” Thomas said.

“I think they’re building on the things [former coach and current athletic director] Barry Alvarez built back in the [1990s]. [Current coach] Paul Chryst is a good friend of mine, and I think he’s such a great shepherd of what this program has become. He just does such a good job teaching the game, teaching young men, developing them into grown men and productive members of society. It’s great just watching the way that the handle everybody within that university and that program.”

One potential avenue for Thomas is getting into the sports media industry. He currently hosts The TomaHawk show with former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and did have some auditions with various companies after his retirement. In fact, that’s why Thomas was in attendance on Tuesday evening. The Cleveland Indians were honoring him, Hawkins, and The TomaHawk podcast as they were slated to throw out the first pitch.

“Just trying to figure out what’s next in life. I’ve done some auditions and some interviews for some different media broadcasting jobs. Now I’m just trying to figure out what that next chapter looks like,” Thomas said.

“For 11 years in the NFL I’ve been formulating opinions on things and the only person that was unlucky enough to hear them was my wife. So now I feel like people should be able to hear my opinions on things, so they can be mad at me just like my wife is when I lecture her on things.”

As his podcast continues to be successful, there’s little doubt by many that Thomas will be able to find success in the media landscape should he desire.

And when he heard that the news of his retirement caused quite a buzz at Wisconsin’s pro day back in March he had a chuckle.

“I didn’t even know it was pro day,” he said. “I feel bad about that. I’ll have to repay them somehow, take them out to dinner or something.”

Wisconsin adds cornerback to 2019 class

Wisconsin added to its 2019 recruiting class Sunday morning.

Cornerback James Williams announced his commitment to the Badgers on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/gf_jw5/status/1003266291321491456

The Hollywood, Fla., product chose Wisconsin over offers from Louisville, Nebraska, Ole Miss and others.

A 3-star recruit, Williams is ranked as the No. 116 cornerback in the country by the 247Sports composite.

He becomes the ninth commitment in Wisconsin’s Class of 2019.