The top-rated high school prospect in Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class was offensive lineman Kayden Lyles. With a talented and deep group of players ahead of him, he began his career by taking a redshirt season.
The top-rated high school prospect in Wisconsin’s 2016 recruiting class was offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen. With a talented and deep group of players ahead of him, he began his career by taking a redshirt season.
You get the idea.
Wisconsin’s best prospect in six of its last eight recruiting classes dating to 2010 did not even play during his first season in Madison. Safety Jameson Wright redshirted in 2010, linebacker Jake Keefer redshirted in 2011 and center Dan Voltz redshirted in 2012. Neither of Wisconsin’s 4-star commits in 2014 played for the Badgers. Offensive lineman Jaden Gault left the team to treat depression, and quarterback D.J. Gillins transferred after two seasons.
Inside linebacker Jack Sanborn is the highest-rated high school player in Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class and is the only 4-star recruit. The Badgers signed all 19 of their committed players Wednesday on the first day of the NCAA’s new early signing period. Given the number of experienced players on the roster at that position, including Ryan Connelly, Chris Orr and Arrington Farrar, don’t be surprised if Sanborn is the next top-rated recruit to redshirt.
At a school such as Wisconsin, that’s perfectly fine because the Badgers rarely require their freshmen to make an immediate impact. Of Wisconsin’s 18 commits in the 2017 recruiting class, only five played this season.
Wisconsin is known for being a developmental program, and that is not a stigma. The Badgers cultivate their talent over several years with the hope that, by the time they are upperclassmen, they’re every bit as good as any player at that position in the Big Ten. It’s the same for walk-ons and 2-star recruits as it is for 4-star prospects. And while some players such as Wright, Keefer, Gault and Gillins don’t fulfill their potential because of transfers or injuries, others become success stories.
Linebacker Marcus Trotter arrived as a walk-on in 2010, took a redshirt season and then recorded 9 total tackles over his first two years playing. He capped his career in 2014 by ranking second on the team with 93 tackles.
Quarterback Bart Houston was a 4-star prospect and the third-highest-rated commit in 2012. He redshirted and then threw a total of 4 passes over his next two seasons. Houston wound up becoming a vital piece to Wisconsin’s 11-3 team last season that won the Cotton Bowl. He even set the Cotton Bowl record for completion percentage by connecting on 11 of 12 passes.
Voltz started 27 games and anchored the offensive line before announcing his retirement in 2016 because of multiple injuries.
The only two top-rated players to see the field in their first season over Wisconsin’s last eight recruiting classes were running back Corey Clement (2013) and Farrar, who arrived as a safety (2015). Clement was a third-string running back who carried 67 times, primarily late in blowouts. Farrar appeared in 12 games and made 6 tackles. Clement earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2016,and Farrar could see plenty of time in his senior season.
Wisconsin fans eager to watch many of the Badgers’ most recent commitments likely will have to bide their time. It remains to be seen how Sanborn and many other players utilize their years in Madison because recruiting is a crapshoot. But, as Wisconsin has shown over the years, it’s worth the wait to find out.