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Badgers target talented wide receiver in 2019 class
Wisconsin’s football program is always in need of playmaking wide receivers, and the Badgers appear to be firmly in the mix for a special prospect in the Class of 2019. Nolan Groulx is a 6-foot, 185-pound receiver (William Amos Hough H.S./Cornelius, N.C.) who holds a Wisconsin scholarship offer. And his former high school football coach raved this week to Land of 10 about the skill set Groulx could provide.
Last season as a sophomore, according to the Charlotte Observer, Groulx caught an astounding 103 passes in 11 games for 1,782 yards with 24 touchdowns for Davidson Day School, where he spent two seasons before transferring to Hough. He also set school records for catches in one game (17) and most points scored in a season (192). Groulx was named to the Associated Press and USA Today all-state teams.
“We just found every way possible to get the ball in his hands,” said Chad Grier, the former Davidson Day football coach, who coached Groulx the past two seasons. “He really was uncoverable. There were times he was double covered and would still get open and make the play. His reputation got out where at first people were like, ‘Hey, we’ll play single coverage. We’ll man up on the back side.’ They got out of that real quick. They’d even try to bracket him.
“We didn’t want to leave him out there on an island. So we would use him in motion, put him in the slot, stack into the backfield. One game we had a special package in. We motioned the backfield, and he was basically the tailback and he ran for 100 yards. He’s just a kid that you need to put the ball in his hands. He can catch it anywhere.”
Groulx’s first Power 5 scholarship offer came from West Virginia in December. Wisconsin offered Groulx in March, and he visited campus June 16, tweeting that he had “a great visit at Wisconsin.” He also holds scholarship offers from James Madison, Elon, Central Michigan, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Wake Forest.
Nolan Groulx visits Madison
— Nolan Groulx (@nolan_groulx) June 16, 2017
Groulx has been recruited by Badgers running backs coach John Settle, as well as wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore. Grier said he didn’t have any conversations with Wisconsin coaches because he stepped down from his head coaching position in December — three months before Wisconsin offered Groulx a scholarship. But Grier has had talks with Groulx about his offers, including the one from the Badgers.
“I know Wisconsin is a big deal to him,” Grier said. “He was very excited about that. He was calling me every time he’d get an offer. He was very humbled and excited. Wisconsin was a big deal to him. I remember that.”
Wisconsin has not yet received any commitments in the 2019 class. Grier indicated Groulx intends to take his time in the recruiting process, as he has yet to start his junior season. According to 247Sports, Wisconsin already has offered scholarships to 14 wide receivers in the 2019 class.
Grier cited Groulx’s relentlessness, work ethic, competitive edge and desire to win as attributes that made him a gifted football player.
“His yards after catch are probably what’s most remarkable because he’s not a 4.4 kid that’s going to outrun everybody,” Grier said. “He never takes a big hit. He’s just very elusive, incredibly quick feet. He’s got great body control. He avoids big hits, but he also doesn’t go down on first contact. He’s going to break tackles. You better wrap him because if you just put an arm on him, he’s going to get through it. It’s just that relentless thing. He runs like a guy in a straight jacket. He’s not just going to go down because you want to tackle him.”
Under Grier, Davidson Day became a powerhouse football program in the school’s six years of existence. The varsity team won four independent school North Carolina state championships and compiled a 65-9 record. Grier said the team ran a fairly complex offense that looked like a spread but primarily involved pro-style concepts. And Groulx was the biggest beneficiary of the offense.
“He got thrown in as a freshman,” Grier said. “We had a really good high school football team his freshman year. He didn’t start as a freshman, but he was a freshman that was on the field in the varsity football games. He could be depended on.
“He was almost like the annoying little brother. We had all these older guys, all these seniors. He was fearless with his body. He’d go after any ball in any traffic situation, and invariably he’d come up with the ball. I think that prepared him for when those guys were all gone. Last year as a sophomore, he was the go-to guy. He really stepped up.”
Handing out offers
Blair Sanderson of Rivals.com tweeted a screen grab of the Class of 2018 scholarship offers list for all 65 Power 5 schools, based on the Rivals database. Wisconsin has offered scholarships to 207 players in the class, which ranks roughly in the middle of the pack — No. 29 in the Power 5 and No. 8 in the Big Ten.
— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) July 25, 2017
Here is how the 14 Big Ten teams stack up among the 65 schools:
3. Rutgers, 325
7. Indiana, 288
11. Purdue, 249
T12. Minnesota, 245
T22. Michigan, 215
T22. Maryland, 215
26. Illinois, 213
29. Wisconsin, 207
37. Nebraska, 188
42. Michigan State, 182
47. Penn State, 155
T49. Ohio State, 145
57. Iowa, 118
64. Northwestern, 68
What the numbers tell us about each school is interesting. Schools such as Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota are fighting to gain more relevance in the Big Ten and college football in general. So it makes sense those schools would be the conference’s leaders in scholarship offers to create a wider group of potential players willing to commit to the program.
On the other end of the spectrum is a school such as Ohio State, which can pick and choose from the very best recruits and therefore doesn’t need to hand out offers with the same bulk as other programs. Northwestern is the most careful in the Big Ten with offering prospects, ahead of only Stanford among Power 5 programs. Both of those schools must strongly consider academic rigors when offering scholarships.
Iowa ranks 13th among 14 Big Ten teams in scholarship offers for the 2018 class, which is notable largely because of comments that Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz made in May about Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. Ferentz was irked by the number of scholarships Fleck had offered high school prospects so early in his tenure at Minnesota and whether the school intended to actually take those players if they committed.
Fleck was asked Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago specifically about his approach to handing out so many offers.
“We evaluate a lot,” Fleck said. “As long as we have a spot open and you know the time frame and we’re talking to you and keeping open communication. ‘Hey we have two spots left, hey we have one spot left, hey we’re full.’ Every team can get full. But we have a ton of evaluations. We work incredibly hard in recruiting, like we did at Western Michigan. That’s the bloodline of your program. Your lifeline is to recruit. So that is one of the No. 1 things we do in our program.”
Of course, whether the number of scholarship offers a school issues is too high remains a subjective topic. But given that programs don’t know which players actually will commit, they’re free to offer anyone they believe can ultimately help the team.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers’ overall scholarship offer breakdown demonstrates the areas where coaches believe the best talent resides. According to 247Sports, Wisconsin offered its highest number of scholarships to players in Florida (54), followed by Texas (17), Ohio (15), Michigan (12) and Pennsylvania (11). Wisconsin only offered scholarships to seven in-state players, and the Badgers landed commitments from five of them.
Wisconsin has 19 total commitments in the 2018 class, with 15 coming from Midwestern states Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst discussed his overall recruiting philosophy at Big Ten Media Days.
“In recruiting, we’re always going to start in Wisconsin,” Chryst said. “And I think if we can keep the best players in the state there, it gives us a really good chance. And then it’s going out wherever we go, and certainly going to start in the Big Ten footprint, but finding kids that are a good fit for Wisconsin.
“I think that the key to recruiting is finding kids that certainly athletically — but academically, socially, personality, all that — that fit Wisconsin. But really in the end it’s about individuals and them finding the right fit and, for us, the right fit at Wisconsin.”