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OLB Andrew Van Ginkel could help Wisconsin in 2017

Wisconsin signing day superlatives, what they’re saying about recruits and DC hire getting close

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Today is Thursday, Feb. 2, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.

Looking ahead

They say you can’t grade how good a recruiting class is until they’ve been on campus for two or three years. And while that might be true, it doesn’t mean we can’t project. So in the wake of National Signing Day on Wednesday, here’s our high school yearbook-style superlatives for Wisconsin’s class of 2017.

Most likely to become a star: WR Danny Davis

Watch the first few minutes of Davis’ highlight film and it’s easy to see why the Badgers were so excited to get his commitment early Wednesday afternoon. It’s filled with contested catches on balls down the field, big play after big play and plenty of swagger. As the second-highest rated wide receiver to ever sign with Wisconsin, Davis will have big expectations on him, but he appears to have the talent to fulfill them.

Most likely to end up an All-Big Ten player: OL Kayden Lyles

Asked what he liked about Lyles, the first thing offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said was, “He’s big.” But there’s plenty more to like about the 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard from Middleton, Wis. The highest-rated of Wisconsin’s commits, Lyles can move pretty well for someone his size and appears mature mentally for his age. With injuries along the line, Lyles will get a chance to show what he can do early, and he’s got the biggest upside long-term of any of the incoming offensive linemen. He’ll start off at guard but will also work at center.

Most likely to help in 2017: OLB Andrew Van Ginkel

Wisconsin didn’t sign the junior college player to come in and sit. Outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar said that with the starters from last year — Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt — preparing for the NFL draft, they expect Van Ginkel to challenge for playing time right away.

Most likely to surprise: WR Deron Harrell

A quarterback and cornerback in high school, Harrell was technically part of the class of 2016 as a grayshirt. Though he didn’t join the team until this semester, he spent his time off wisely, working out for the past five months with former college players near his home in Denver as he made the transition from cornerback to wide receiver. It might not happen early in his career, but Harrell is a heck of an athlete, and the Badgers can always use more of those.

Most likely to switch positions: DE Aaron Vopal

Vopal was a first-team All-State pick on defense, but at 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, he could be better suited for the offensive side of the ball. A standout basketball player, Vopal is considered a good enough athlete to play tackle, and the Badgers won’t hesitate to move him if that’s the case.

Next defensive coordinator

paul chryst-wisconsin football-wisconsin badgers
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is hoping to make a decision on a defensive coordinator soon. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly three weeks since Justin Wilcox left to take the head coaching job at California, leaving an opening on the Wisconsin coaching staff at defensive coordinator. It appears the Badgers are getting close to filling the void.

“When Justin left, it’s given me time to think about and talk to a number of different people,” coach Paul Chryst told UWBadgers.com during Wisconsin’s signing day special on Wednesday. “I would anticipate by the end of this week having a decision.”

Who that will end up being remains to be seen, but two of the internal candidates — secondary coach Jim Leonhard and outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar — said they had interest in the job.

“We’ll see what happens. I know coach Chryst wants to make that decision in the near future,” said Leonhard, who just finished his first year as a coach. “I’m excited for the future of myself (in) coaching. I don’t know what path that’s going to take right now.”

Neither guy really wanted to talk about the job, instead wanting the focus to be on signing day. But asked point blank whether he wanted to be the next defensive coordinator, Tibesar said, “Absolutely.”

It should be noted that four of the last six defensive coordinators at Wisconsin have gone on to run their own programs, while a fifth, LSU’s Dave Aranda, is the highest-paid assistant coach in the country.

What they said

With Wisconsin’s class of 2017 officially in the fold, Chryst and the assistants that recruited them were finally allowed to talk about them. Here’s a few that stood out.

— How long did it take 4-star quarterback Jack Coan to decide Wisconsin was the place for him?

“Right when I came here (last spring), within the first 15 minutes, I knew I wanted to come here.”

— Chryst was unable to talk about wide receiver Danny Davis when he held his news conference because the Ohio native’s paperwork wasn’t in. But the Big Ten Network caught up with Chryst later to get his thoughts.

— Wisconsin will have to replace its top two runners from 2016, so running backs coach John Settle was asked if 3-star tailback Jonathan Taylor out of New Jersey could play early.

“We had a young man (Corey Clement) that just left here, (Taylor) broke all his (high school rushing) records (in New Jersey). I wouldn’t put anything past him.”

— Among the more notable prospects is tight end Jake Ferguson. A 3-star recruit, Ferguson is the grandson of Alvarez and a top-level athlete. But it was something else that had tight ends coach Mickey Turner excited.

“He’s competitive. He’s got a demeanor about him. He’s not just happy-go-lucky, like, ‘cool, I’ll go play college football.’ He likes playing football. He likes hitting people. He likes catching the ball and making plays in the moment. He wants to be that guy.”

— Wisconsin returns four of its five starters along the offensive line, but with injuries keeping guys out of spring practice, Rudolph believes that Lyles can compete early.

“He is probably physically mature enough to truly compete. We’ll see where he’s at. There’s a big learning curve. Our guys will do a great job and take care of him and help him along the way. It’ll be a great spring for him.”

Historic start

In just his second year as head coach, Greg Gard has his team off to the third-best start in school history. At 19-3, including an 8-1 record in Big Ten play, the 2016-17 squad sits behind only two others when it comes to the first 22 games of a season.

The start isn’t a huge surprise, at least it wouldn’t have been at the start of the season. But then the Badgers lost by double-digits to Creighton and got blown out by North Carolina. At that point, Wisconsin was just 3-2 on the year and left many wondering whether those lofty preseason expectations were wrong. Sixteen wins over the last 17 games have proven that while this year’s group certainly has its warts — free throw shooting and periodic offensive slumps — it’s more than capable of making a run deep into the NCAA tournament.

Catching up