Wednesday marked national signing day for college football recruits and the end to Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen’s first full recruiting campaign with the Badgers. By the end of the day, Wisconsin landed 25 scholarship athletes and five walk-ons for the coming season.
Heading into the recruiting process, Andersen said the offensive line was the primary need for Wisconsin to address, with guard Ryan Groy graduating and it being an already-thin position group.
“A specific need was the offensive line,” Andersen said. “The goal is to get that to 16 scholarship players. We made good progress in that area, some tremendous young men there.”
Jaden Gault and Michael Deiter come in as the highest rated offensive line recruits to sign with Wisconsin. Both Gault and Deiter enrolled at Wisconsin this spring and will be able to participate in spring practice.
According to ESPN Recruiting Nation, Gault is Wisconsin’s highest rated recruit, as he is the only player to sign with the Badgers that ranks in ESPN’s top-300 recruits list, coming in at 141st and 10th at his position.
But Andersen believes Deiter will have the best chance to snag a starting spot during spring practice, with injuries for Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen keeping them from playing in the spring and leaving an opening at center.
“Michael may be the starting center with the injuries at this point to Dan [Voltz] and to Dallas [Lewallen],” Andersen said. “So that is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman at the center spot. Very challenging, but a great opportunity.”
After the offensive line, Andersen and his staff focused on bringing recruits to play in the secondary and at wide receiver. And no matter which side of the ball they will be playing, Andersen is looking for one thing out of his secondary and wide receivers: speed.
“We weren’t so much looking for corners or safeties, we were looking for young men that are highly competitive, love the game of football and can run,” Andersen said.
One of the more intriguing recruits who could end up on either side of the ball is Dareian Watkins out of Ohio. Watkins originally committed to Northwestern, but switched over to Wisconsin in November.
Watkins has the ability to play receiver or somewhere in the secondary. It is yet to be seen where Andersen and his staff end up placing the athlete. As of right now, he is listed as a wide receiver on the Wisconsin roster.
But perhaps the most intriguing recruit of the 2014 class comes at a position where Wisconsin has plenty of players to choose from, but also where a question mark still exists.
Quarterback D.J. Gillins comes to Madison with a lot of buzz surrounding him, as he is an atypical Wisconsin quarterback. Gillins, who enrolled at Wisconsin this spring, features mobility to go with a big frame that can create havoc for the defense when he leaves the pocket.
Gillins is now the second mobile quarterback Andersen has brought in to Wisconsin in less than a year with the program. There have been rumblings of Andersen’s desire to feature a duel-threat quarterback and Gillins presents another option — along with Tanner McEvoy who Andersen says will be playing quarterback again after appearing at safety last season — if he decides to go in that direction.
But for now, Andersen insists Joel Stave is Wisconsin’s starting quarterback.
“Joel’s our starting quarterback,” Andersen said. “It’s his spot to lose.”
In all, Andersen said he is impressed with his first group of Wisconsin recruits, but said UW was an “easy sell” that allowed him to go after the players he and his staff wanted.
“Their want to get into a tremendous social environment, like we talk about all the time, is a driving force their them and their families,” Andersen said. “And obviously to play at the highest level of football—they get that opportunity at the University of Wisconsin.”