There are two position groups that football coaches at Wisconsin have little problem convincing highly rated, elite high school talent to become Badgers for.
One is the offensive line. This makes sense. If there is any place in the country where offensive lineman get as much fanfare as the quarterback, it is in Madison.
The other is tight end. And while UW doesn’t have the strong history of tight ends that a school like Miami can boast of, assistant coaches don’t have to say much when speaking to a prospective blue chipper:
Owen Daniels. Travis Beckum. Garrett Graham. Lance Kendricks. — The last four tight ends to start for the Badgers are all in the NFL.
That should be enough.
“There is a big tradition of tight ends here,” redshirt freshman Sherard Cadogan said. “I just want to continue that great tradition. You see all these great players coming out of here, seeing how they did and to play the tight end position gets you excited.”
“I wanted to play H-back; that is why I chose to come here,” UW sophomore Manasseh Garner added. “I love the physicality of H-back. You are hitting someone on every play. You are involved on every play in the passing game and running game.”
Cadogan and Garner came to Wisconsin last fall looking to be the next two recruits to add their name to the increasingly impressive list at H-back.
Garner impressed the coaches so much he played wide receiver, a pass rushing defensive end and special teams last season. While he appreciated the playing time, Garner said he wanted to put on weight and get back to the H-back position he came here for.
The Pittsburgh native put on 12 pounds after the Rose Bowl to weigh in at a muscular 216 pounds, and when head coach Bret Bielema offered him the chance to switch back from receiver, Garner jumped on it.
“I always feel like I am a leader, and I feel like the tight end position in this offense is a leading position,” Garner said. “The demands for this offense, blocking, running routes, they are always playing a big role in this offense. The tight end position is a position where you have to be physical and put a lot on the field every play.”
With Kendricks graduating and sophomore Jacob Pedersen the only other H-back on the spring roster, both Garner and Cadogan will be given an opportunity to show the coaches what they can do with a lot of reps.
While Pedersen will certainly have the inroad to start, Badger coaches adhere very strictly to the “production plays” motto. If Garner or Cadogan prove themselves the best, they will see their name No. 1 on the depth chart come fall.
“It is great to be in competition out there,” Cadogan said. “It is a chance to showcase how you have improved and what you can do on the field. Then there is the spring game with everyone watching, and it is the big show right there.”
“You are not only competing against your own teammates; you are competing against yourself,” Garner added. “You are showing your own self how much you can progress, and it is a great opportunity to step up. As the coaches say, come fall they go with what they got. In spring you get the opportunity you might not get in the fall.”
Cadogan, who weighs in at a cut-245 pounds, and Garner are easily the most athletic tight ends on the roster. The versatile H-back position allows them to showcase that athletic ability.
Now, the coaches will be most interested to see their comfort level with the playbook and how nuanced their understanding of coverages at the college level are.
Both Cadogan and Garner spoke to the many hours they put in for film study this winter.
Garner joked it was easy now, as he had to look at just one position instead of two.
“It is totally different,” Cadogan said. “I hear a play and just know what to do. Last summer, I would think, like, I’m suppose to go here right? Now it is a lot better. When you understand the offense and coverage, the game starts to slow down for you.”