Madison, WI (U-WIRE) -- After months of speculation, the wait is finally over. The Wisconsin football team announced its 2005 recruiting class Wednesday. The Badgers scoured the nation for the 24 recruits they landed, with players representing nine states including a pair from the highly contested recruiting grounds of Florida.
"As I take a look at this class, the thing that stands out ... is this is a fast class," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "There's a lot of speed in this class, regardless of positions, it's very athletic, and you'll see a versatile group of athletes."
While the recruiting class may be versatile, the Badgers clearly enjoyed greater success with certain positions. The Badgers landed a noticeably high number of linebacker recruits this season, as many as five depending on position changes, despite returning young starters Mark Zalewski, a junior, and sophomore Andy Crooks.
"I am excited with the guys I have on campus now," UW defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "On paper, we should have probably only signed two linebackers ... but we had a list of linebackers on the board, and I said to Coach Alvarez, 'This is the most impressive list of linebackers I've had in all my years of recruiting.'"
Looking at the class of linebackers the Badgers signed, it's easy to understand why the team ended up cutting recruits. The Badger linebacker class is headed by Oak Creek, Wis., standout Travis Beckum.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Beckum was considered one of the top recruits in the country, garnering accolades as the No. 1 recruit in Wisconsin and the No. 6 linebacker recruit in the nation by Rivals.com. A two-time all-state selection in high school, Beckum finished his career at Oak Creek amassing 108 tackles, 16 sacks, seven interceptions, eight fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks as a senior.
Despite speculation that Beckum could play defensive end for Wisconsin (he enters the program with similar size to last year's starting defensive end Jonathan Welsh), Bielema maintains that Beckum will stay at linebacker. According to Bielema, Beckum projects to the Sam linebacker position in his defensive plans.
The landing of Beckum also constituted a great success in the recruiting world for the Badgers. Beckum originally began his school search outside of Wisconsin, but thanks to special teams coach Brian Murphy, with the help of the defensive staff, the Badgers were able to land the state's top recruit.
"When you have someone as highly recruited as he is - he is a national recruit who could have gone any place in the country - that's a priority for us," Alvarez said. "You want to keep the best players at home."
Though Beckum highlights the linebacker class, he is far from its only star. Thanks in large part to Bielema, the Badgers were also able to land Elijah Hodge. The Dillard High School (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) standout shunned offers from other Big Ten universities Ohio State, Iowa and several others to don the Wisconsin cardinal and white.
"I didn't think he'd go to Iowa," Bielema said. "When he was a sophomore, he left the high school he was at because he was tired of being called "Lil' Hodge." So I knew he probably wasn't going to go to another school that was going to have the same effect. So I figured if he stayed alive until our visit, we'd be alright."
Bielema was familiar with Hodge well before the recruiting period. Bielema had a relationship with Hodge's brother, Abdul, currently a senior linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Bielema recruited and coached Abdul when he was an assistant at Iowa in 2001. His familiarity with Elijah and his family was instrumental in the St. Thomas native deciding to attend UW.
With Beckum and Hodge already committed to Wisconsin, Bielema was forced to show remarkable restraint in going after other talented linebacker recruits.
"We ended up cutting away a kid who signed at another Big Ten school; we cut a kid who ended up at Ohio State," Bielema said. "I don't think I've ever cut away a kid that could've signed at Ohio State, but we were over already."
Switching to the other side of the ball, Wisconsin offensive coaches are just as excited about their offensive recruits as they are their defensive counterparts. Topping the list of offensive recruits is Menasha, Wis., native Andy Kemp. A 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive tackle prospect, Kemp was the lone recruit to enroll early at Madison.
"I think offensive line is probably the hardest position to come in and play right away as a true freshman, you just don't see that very often," Alvarez said. "In Andy's case, he's strong. The fact that he is here is huge. He'll learn the tempo that we want in our out-of-season conditioning. He'll have the opportunity to get 15 practices in and try to learn the system and then start his freshman year. We felt that would give him quite an edge and give him the ability to contribute right away."
True freshmen starting on the offensive line are a rare breed in the Alvarez era. In fact, Alvarez had not started a true freshman offensive lineman until Joe Thomas two seasons ago. Despite Alvarez's past record, Kemp feels he has a legitimate chance to start next season opposite Thomas at the right tackle position.
"I know there are opening spots at right tackle, right guard and left guard is open," Kemp said. "I don't expect (to start), but I'm going to try for it. There are two other guys, two good right tackles in front of me right now. We're training right now as hard as we can together, but come this spring, they are enemies to me."
Should Kemp see the field this season, he may be blocking for one of his fellow recruits, tailback Dion Foster. The diminutive Foster, only 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, will be competing with sophomore Jamil Walker and senior Booker Stanley for minutes behind projected starter Brian Calhoun.
Foster, who played his high school ball with current Badger tight end Sean Lewis, amassed 2,010 yards and 25 touchdowns on 204 carries in his senior season at Oak Lawn Richards High School.
UW also bolstered its receiving corps with the signing of tight end Garrett Graham. The Brick, N.J., native impressed coaches with his combination of size and speed, leading Coach Alvarez to say the multi-dimensional tight end could be utilized both as a run-blocker and as a wide receiver.
For his career at Memorial High School in Brick, Graham collected 2,031 yards and 21 touchdowns on 96 receptions.
Wisconsin also received commitments on the offensive side from quarterback Dustin Sherer (Cicero, Ind.), tailback Jerry Butler (Philadelphia, Pa.), wide receiver Elijah Theus (Sugarland, Texas), tight end Jaevery McFadden (Riviera Beach, Fla.) and offensive linemen Eric Vanden Heuvel (Hudson, Wis.) and Nate Nurse (Teaneck, N.J.).
Defensively, the Badgers landed defensive linemen Dan Cascone (Newtown, Conn.), Terrance Jamison (Riverdale, Ill.) and Matthew Shaughnessy (Norwich, Conn.), linebackers Jonathan Casillas (New Brunswick, N.J.), DeAndre Levy (Milwaukee, Wis.) and O'Brien Schofield (Great Lakes, Ill.) and defensive backs Shane Carter (Troy, Ohio), Prince Moody (Columbus, Ohio) and Aubrey Pleasant (Flint, Mich).
UW rounded out its signing class with tight end/defensive lineman Jeffery Stehle (Constantia, N.Y.) and athlete Jarmal Ruffin (Philadelphia, Pa.)
"A number of the athletes have a number of positions that they can play, and we don't know where they will play when they show up," Alvarez said. "Wherever our need is, and wherever they fit, is where they are going to play."
(C) 2004 Badger Herald via U-WIRE