Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Where Wisconsin stands ahead of fall season

Fickell’s newest weapons appear poised for offensive overhaul this fall
Justin Mielke

Throughout the University of Wisconsin’s 127-year history with a team on the gridiron, only 31 men can stake claim to head coaching duties. Former college athlete and head coach of the University of Cincinnati, Luke Fickell, inherits this title following the impromptu, in-season firing of Paul Chryst, who served as the team’s anchor for seven years.

Perhaps the most significant question looming around the team, though, revolves around the relationship between two of the most coveted positions on the turf — quarterback and wide receiver.

With roughly four months remaining until Wisconsin’s first home contest under Fickell, the Badgers have yet to announce the starting quarterback for the 2023-2024 season. Given the historical significance surrounding the position and the departure of three-year starter Graham Mertz, the connection between the new anchor and his throwing weapons could bridge the gap between contention or misfortune.


As of April, seven new quarterbacks and wide receivers utilized the transfer portal to commit to the university for the fall campaign, according to UW Athletics. Pass catchers Quincy Burroughs and Will Pauling both arrived from the University of Cincinnati, Fickell’s former employer. C.J. Williams and Bryson Green suited up for the University of Southern California and Oklahoma State University, respectively, just a few months ago.

Notwithstanding the mix of these new faces, Fickell remains optimistic in the unit’s development alongside his quarterback room.

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“It’s consistency, and that’s why I think we’ve grown at wide receiver more than any because, as you see, those are the guys that have played every practice,” Fickell said following a practice on April 13. “There may be a ding here and there, but for the most part, the core of that receiver room is out here every single day.”

In Fickell’s view, repetition and consistency on the gridiron certainly accelerate the development process in terms of pass-catching, skill development, strength and agility. Wide receivers, however, depend upon the individual who touches the pigskin on nearly every offensive possession. 

Wide receiver and native of Mission Viejo, California, Williams stressed the impact of establishing a personal relationship with his quarterback room.

“All of them are great guys, and beyond just football, I’ve been able to get to know them as people, and I think that’s the biggest thing in a quarterback-receiver relationship,” Williams said. “If you guys know each other as people, once you get that down, you’ll kind of be able to connect on the field even more.”

During his freshman season at the University of Southern California, Williams totaled just four catches for 34 yards, according to the UW Athletics. By transferring to UW, he elected to travel roughly 2,000 miles from his home state and the infamous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to don the cardinal and white. 

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Williams noted how quarterbacks Tanner Mordecai, Braedyn Locke and Nick Evers transferred alongside him. To him, this connection only strengthens the bond. 

“When you transfer in with guys, I feel like it’s extremely easy because you’re like, ‘okay, we don’t know anyone, so we’ll kinda stick together.’ So that was kind of what happened there,” Williams said. “And as time went on, the relationships were built. Now we got out here, we’re throwing and all those different things … So I feel like just getting to know them as people is the most important part, and the football will come after.”

To players like Williams, familiarity off the turf possesses as much of an impact as hurling the pigskin on the practice field. His running mate and fellow wide receiver, Will Pauling, echoed a similar sentiment.

Pauling, a transfer from Cincinnati, suited up under Fickell last season. Like Williams, the activities away from Camp Randall can bolster these connections.

“It’s been a lot of fun, honestly,” Pauling said. “It’s been really good working with everybody, getting to know everybody, not even just on the field but off the field as well. It’s been a good group to work with.”

To athletes like Mordecai, a transfer from Southern Methodist University, diligence throughout the offseason equally contributes to athletic maturation and camaraderie between the skill positions.

“It’s been fun. Like I was saying earlier, it takes reps, repetition. It doesn’t just come overnight,” Mordecai said. “Over the winter, the hours that we spent here, throwing, getting to know each other on the football level. And then through spring practice, through eight practices, kind of where we started day one and where we are now. As far as having continuity together, we’re definitely growing in the right direction.”

Mordecai, one of three quarterbacks to commit to Wisconsin from the transfer portal, concluded his career at SMU as the program’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns and third in passing yards, according to the UW Athletics

Despite being one of the most decorated members of Wisconsin’s crowded quarterback room, Mordecai will need to outwork his peers to capture the starting role. Regardless, each game manager, including Nick Evers, acknowledged the significance of those he targets during practice. 

Evers, a former quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, also made the trek to Madison through the transfer portal. For him, the wide receiver room made his acclimation to the program nearly seamless.

“You know, the transition was actually pretty easy, and I say that just because these guys, we’ve got a really, really talented wide receiver core,” Evers said. “You pretty much just throw the ball anywhere in their direction, and they’re gonna find a way to go get it. That side of chemistry has been pretty smooth.”

In one of the Badgers’ most highly anticipated seasons of recent memory, members of both the quarterback and wide receiver units feel confident in the development of these newly founded bonds. Like any relationship, both parties will encounter turbulence. With dedication and attentiveness, however, these athletes anticipate smooth sailing with the season looming on the horizon. 

“Growth isn’t linear, obviously,” another quarterback on the roster, Marshall Howe, said. “We’re in a spot now, both the quarterbacks and receivers chemistry-wise, that we weren’t, not only at the start of spring practices but winter workouts. When you have a lot of guys that are committed to the same end-goal, it’s pretty easy to develop a chemistry.”

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