Wisconsin mailbag: Which football recruit could commit next; basketball scholarship offers; Marlon Ruffin’s impact on Jalen Johnson
Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we discuss which football recruit could commit next, thoughts on the basketball team next season, backup quarterback Jack Coan’s development, how the basketball program recruits, which defensive backs have stood out in spring practice and the impact of Marlon Ruffin not playing hoops for the Badgers.
Who do you think is next or closest to committing for football?
— Badger Recruiting (@WiscoRecruiting) March 25, 2018
Answer: It’s hard to say which recruit will be next to commit to Wisconsin’s football program, but there are a number of players who clearly rank the Badgers high on their list. Included in that group is tackle Bryce Benhart (Lakeville, Minn.), cornerback Semar Melvin (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and safety Moses Douglass (Springfield, Ohio). I’ve spoken to Benhart’s high school coach, as well as Douglass’ high school coach — who also happens to be his father. Melvin, meanwhile, is set to take an official visit to Wisconsin in June.
Lakeville North football coach Brian Vossen told me that three or four programs will visit Benhart each day at the high school during the open recruiting window when coaches can see prospects. But Badgers offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has stood out.
“Joe Rudolph has been awesome,” Vossen said. “He’s done a great job of forming a relationship with Bryce. I know Bryce feels really comfortable around him. We had the opportunity to have Paul Chryst come visit the school. He watched Bryce in wrestling practice.
“I had never met him before. Just a really Midwestern, good laid-back guy. I know Bryce, he has Wisconsin very high on his list of schools he’s interested in, but he doesn’t give me a lot. … He’s already made it clear that that’s a place he’s highly interested in and quite frankly, any lineman in the country, if you get an offer from Wisconsin, that’s a pretty big deal.”
Springfield High football coach Maurice Douglass told me that Moses intended to take an unofficial visit to see Wisconsin’s campus during spring break in late March or early April. He also anticipated that his son would return to campus for an official visit. Moses Douglass recently listed Kentucky as his leader, but perhaps a visit to Madison could change his opinion.
“He loves it,” Maurice said of Wisconsin. “He’s starting to strike up a pretty good relationship with Coach [Jim] Leonhard. Moses says he talks to him at least once a week, sometimes more than that. I know he likes the direction of the program and the team. He’s excited about it. I know that he wants to get up there. So we’re going to try to get up there during our spring break.”
Thoughts on next years basketball team
— Alex Illikainen Fan 🏀 (@WisconsinAngels) March 25, 2018
Answer: I’m optimistic that Wisconsin will be a top-25 program and return to the NCAA Tournament. Anybody who watched the Badgers down the stretch has to be encouraged about the way they played, beating No. 6 Purdue and going toe-to-toe with Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan State twice.
Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice, who played in only 10 games each, will be back from injury. Brad Davison will be healthy after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder. Trevor Anderson will be available after transferring from Green Bay and redshirting. Point guard Tai Strickland, who committed Tuesday in the 2018 recruiting class, expects to compete for playing time. Assuming Ethan Happ does not declare for the NBA and returns for his senior season, Wisconsin will have a solid top eight or nine.
The big question is whether Wisconsin’s coaches can land a transfer for instant front-court help. But with at least five or six guards capable of playing, as well as Happ, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford and Khalil Iverson, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
What would it take for Jack Coan to overtake Hornibrook? If he outperformed the starter, would Chryst make the switch?
— Chris Hoell (@MNBadgerDad) March 26, 2018
Answer: Jack Coan has come a long way in one year, but it would take something totally unexpected for him to earn Wisconsin’s starting quarterback job over Alex Hornibrook. I don’t see that happening given Hornibrook’s experience and his MVP performance in the Orange Bowl. Obviously, if Coan consistently outperformed Hornibrook, Chryst would have reason to reconsider. Still, that scenario seems unlikely.
I wrote about Coan on Monday, and coaches have been pleased with his progress. Last year at this time, Coan was an early enrollee who was trying to learn the playbook and didn’t even know the hand signals called from the sideline during Wisconsin’s spring game. Now, he has a pretty solid grasp on all the intricacies required of being a quarterback at this level.
Coan played in six games last season and completed all 5 of his passes for 36 yards. What I’m more curious to find out is whether he’ll take a redshirt season in the next two years with Hornibrook as the starter. Coan needs to be able to redshirt to have two years of eligibility once Hornibrook leaves the program. But if he’s the clear-cut backup, it could be difficult for coaches to redshirt him. Perhaps the staff will feel comfortable with Kare Lyles or incoming freshman Chase Wolf in two seasons. That part remains to be seen.
When Hornibrook finishes his career, Coan should be in good position to earn the starting job. If Graham Mertz ultimately signs with Wisconsin in the 2019 class and is as good as advertised, maybe he could challenge for the role. But Coan’s continued practice and game reps should give him a leg up on the competition.
Will coach gard go after any of the Pitt B-ball players
— toby earl (@earl_toby) March 25, 2018
Answer: I’d expect Wisconsin to explore all options in the transfer market given the Badgers’ need for an instant impact front-court player. Eight different Pittsburgh players requested a transfer after coach Kevin Stallings was fired. One player in particular from that group who could pique Wisconsin’s interest is senior Ryan Luther.
Luther is a 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward who averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. He missed the final two months of the season with a stress reaction in his right foot and sat out 12 games the previous season with a stress fracture in the same foot. If he earns a medical hardship waiver, he could be the perfect fit for Wisconsin as a big man who can pick and pop. Luther is a career 41.4-percent 3-point shooter.
It seems like Gard & co. are very singular about their recruiting, opposite from Chryst. Why not increase your odds of getting at least one of them by offering a handful? Like offering J. Davis, G. Madsen, AND Patrick Baldwin (early!). And Zeke N., J. Sibley, AND D. Garcia…
— Jamie Dewing (@jdewbucky) March 25, 2018
Answer: If you consider that FBS programs are allowed 85 scholarships each season, while Division I basketball programs are allowed 13 scholarships, it’s easier to see why basketball programs are so selective. I understand that fans would like the Badgers to offer every high-level player that they show interest in for each class. But that’s also not realistic.
Coaches have to take into account how a player will develop, what the scholarship distribution will look like in the class and whether the player would be a good fit for the program, among other considerations. Wisconsin may like a couple of players more than others. If the Badgers offer their third or fourth option and get a commitment, then they could be stuck when it comes to their top choices. Sometimes, there are only two or three scholarships available in a given class, so a misstep has far greater consequences than it does in football.
Of the players you mentioned, Wisconsin has offered a scholarship to forward Zeke Nnaji (Hopkins, Minn.) in 2019 and guard Jonathan Davis (La Crosse, Wis.) in 2020.
In the Class of 2020, shooting guard Gabe Madsen (Rochester, Minn.) has offers from Marquette, Northern Iowa and Green Bay. Forward Jamari Sibley (Milwaukee) has offers from UNLV, Green Bay, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Kansas State. Forward Dawson Garcia (Prior Lake, Minn.) doesn’t have any offers. Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Sussex, Wis.) doesn’t have any offers, but Wisconsin hasn’t offered anybody yet in the 2021 class.
Each player could eventually earn a Wisconsin offer. But the Badgers have to be sure they’re offering scholarships to Big Ten-caliber players, and it makes sense for them to take their time.
I also don’t think it’s fair to compare the process to how Chryst and Wisconsin’s football team recruits. Yes, Wisconsin is going to offer a boatload of players in states such as Florida, Texas and Georgia. But the rate at which the Badgers actually sign those players is low. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but from 2014-18, Wisconsin football signed only 5.3 percent of the offered prospects in Florida, 5.0 percent in Georgia and 6.1 percent in Texas. That means Wisconsin signed 27 out of 498 offered players.
At the same time, Wisconsin is very selective about which in-state football prospects it offers because it will likely land a commitment. The Badgers signed 25 of 44 offered players from inside Wisconsin. And, again, there is a greater margin for error in football than in basketball.
Will Trevor Keegan sign with Badgers?
— Paul Herrmann (@paulh707) March 25, 2018
Answer: I wrote last week about tackle Trevor Keegan, who is the No. 1-ranked high school football player in Illinois for the 2019 recruiting class. In total, Keegan holds 25 known scholarship offers, including one from Wisconsin, and the list continues to grow.
Wisconsin offered Keegan on Sept. 18, and he visited campus to watch Wisconsin defeat Purdue 17-9 in October. At the time, he appeared to be trending in Wisconsin’s direction. In fact, Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports made a Crystal Ball forecast for Keegan in favor of the Badgers.
But in the last several months, more schools have recognized Keegan’s talent. The 6-6, 310-pound prospect is a 247Sports composite 4-star player who ranks as the No. 15 tackle in the country. He has earned recent offers from Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Alabama. Keegan took unofficial visits to Georgia and Ohio State. And following the Ohio State visit on March 8, which netted Keegan a Buckeyes offer, Wiltfong flipped his Crystal Ball to Ohio State.
Rob Fontana, Keegan’s high school football coach at Crystal Lake South, told me that Wisconsin is not out of the running just yet.
“He’s shared a lot about it,” Fontana said of Wisconsin. “I want to say he was on campus a couple of times. I think he went up to a camp. He’s met up with all the coaches. He’s so open to everything. I know he’s got a notebook that him and his family kind of jot everything down on what they like, what they don’t like, what they’re looking for. He’s got a lot of things. He hasn’t ruled anybody out.
“But I know in the times that I’ve met with some of those coaches over there, too, they’ve got good things to say about him. He had a good rapport with those coaches in the times he was there. So I’d say they’re in the mix just like the majority.”
I think it may be difficult for Wisconsin to land Keegan given how much interest he has received recently from the college football bluebloods. Keegan’s initial recruiting contact at Wisconsin was outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, but he has since become the defensive coordinator at Oregon State. Badgers quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr is now the lead recruiter on Keegan.
The good news for Wisconsin is that it has several other tackles interested in the program, including Bryce Benhart (Lakeville, Minn.), Quinn Carroll (Minneapolis), John Olmstead (Metuchen, N.J.), Jonathan Allen (Dayton, Ohio) and Andrew Kristofic (Gibsonia, Pa.).
What r the badgers odds on landing Steele Chambers?
— TheJuiceIsLoose (@wtip12) March 25, 2018
Answer: I spoke two weeks ago with Tim McFarlin, who is running back Steele Chambers’ high school coach at Blessed Trinity Catholic in Roswell, Ga. Here’s what McFarlin told me:
“Right now, Wisconsin’s in the top 3 or 4, which is where you want to be at this point in time. I think he’s going to try to make a decision by Aug. 1. I know he’s developed a very good relationship with John Settle. … Steele sees a lot of value in Wisconsin.
“Certainly academically, it’s one of the top public colleges in the country. For Steele, it’s more than just football. He really liked it. And he liked the fact that the Wisconsin coaching staff never really wavered on his position. They basically said, ‘Look, you’re going to be a running back and you’re going to carry it 20 times a game’ or whatever. I think they painted a very clear picture for him.”
McFarlin said that many other schools are considering Chambers at either running back or linebacker. Chambers is a 247Sports composite 4-star prospect who is listed as the No. 30 athlete in the country. He holds 27 scholarship offers, and McFarlin said the ratio between offers for him to play running back or outside linebacker is close to 50-50.
Chambers last season helped lead Blessed Trinity to the first football state championship in the history of the program, which began in 2001. He rushed for 1,301 yards with 23 touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Chambers also demonstrated his versatility by catching 13 passes for 143 yards with 2 touchdowns. The previous season, he caught only 3 passes. Chambers added 70 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 2½ sacks on defense.
Wisconsin already has one running back committed in the 2019 class with Julius Davis (Menomonee Falls, Wis.). But the staff continues to look for another tailback, and Chambers would represent a major recruiting victory. McFarlin noted the schools Chambers has said he likes include Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Stanford.
One other facet Wisconsin has going for it is that Blessed Trinity runs a similar offense to the Badgers. McFarlin said Blessed Trinity operates out of “21 personnel,” which is a pro-style formation that consists of two running backs, a tight end and two receivers. Chambers watched with great interest last season as Wisconsin won a school-record 13 games, captured the Orange Bowl and featured a freshman running back in Jonathan Taylor, who was a Doak Walker Award finalist.
What are your thoughts on Aaron Vopal in spring ball? I love/buy the hype on Bryson Williams, but can Vopal also contribute on a thin d-line this year?
— Ben Tannenbaum (@maddog7493) March 25, 2018
Answer: Aaron Vopal, a redshirt freshman from De Pere, Wis., certainly has positioned himself early in spring practice as someone who will see significant reps at defensive end next season. Vopal has been working with the first-team defense because Garrett Rand is sidelined with a back injury. I would expect Isaiahh Loudermilk and Rand to open the season as starters. Rand moved from nose guard to defensive end for playing time. But after those two, Vopal appears to be the next man in.
There is still a long way to go to establishing a pecking order, and guys such as Kraig Howe, Keldric Preston and David Pfaff hope to have a say in the competition. But I like what Vopal has done. Wisconsin has to replace three senior defensive ends off the team from last season, so there is plenty of opportunity there.
What’s the case at corner this year? Is dcw the 1?
— brett 🦌🧀🍺 (@bucksbrett) March 25, 2018
Answer: Dontye Carriere-Williams recorded 30 tackles with 6 pass breakups as the third corner last season. Without Derrick Tindal and Nick Nelson, it makes sense for him to elevate into a starting role based on his experience. But we have yet to see him participate in spring practice because he’s out with an abdominal injury.
I wrote about Wisconsin’s young and inexperienced secondary last week. Even though guys haven’t seen the field much, if at all, they have a ton of confidence. It’s going to be a battle for playing time with Faion Hicks, Madison Cone, Caesar Williams and perhaps even Donte Burton. Hicks was tremendous at practice Thursday and intercepted two passes.
Whoever is on the field likely will get tested plenty by opposing quarterbacks early next season.
“Last year, the big thing we talked about was the standard,” Cone said. “We’ve got to hold ourselves to a certain level. The guys that are here now, we don’t feel like we’re dropping off at all. I know everybody from the outside looking in is looking at how that DB group is going to hold up. But we feel like we’ve got a treat coming for everybody Game 1.”
Sounds like Ruffin and family not interested in a PFO. Johnson said Ruffin coming to UW could impact his decision about UW. Ruffin is blowing up in his senior season (like Sam Hauser did, who has become a solid player) does this start to feel like Hauser 2.0?
— CTBadger22 (@CTBadger1) March 25, 2018
Answer: For some background, I wrote a story that published Thursday about Sun Prairie (Wis.) guard Marlon Ruffin, who was hoping to earn a walk-on opportunity with Wisconsin’s basketball team. In the story, Marlon and his father, Jerry, both said that they believed an offer would be forthcoming if his admissions paperwork was cleared with the university. On Saturday, Marlon’s mother, Marilyn, tweeted this:
Aftermath: The brutal reality is as a PWO the wing guard position he plays now is already occupied by at least 4 current UW players for next 2-3 years. The odds of earning a scholarship would had been very SLIM to none. He deserves better. Thanks anyway for your support, UW Fans! https://t.co/1L2Q02Zcjs
— Marilyn Ruffin (@olskool_4life) March 24, 2018
Obviously, Marlon and his family wanted to find a place where he could earn a scholarship, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having that goal. As Marilyn Ruffin noted, it would have been extremely difficult for Marlon to earn a scholarship in the near future at Wisconsin given the guard depth and the scholarship distribution within the program.
As for how this decision impacts forward Jalen Johnson, I think it will be minimal. Johnson, who was Ruffin’s high school teammate at Sun Prairie, is ranked as the No. 8 player in the 2020 class. Ruffin told me that he thought him playing for Wisconsin could play a role in Johnson’s willingness to join him with the Badgers. Certainly, there is a high level of familiarity there given that they were teammates for two years.
But the Sam and Joey Hauser situation strikes me as much different. Sam Hauser was a sure-fire Division I prospect who held 10 scholarship offers, including one from Marquette. He was ranked as the No. 1 player in the state for 2016 in the 247Sports composite. Wisconsin never even offered him a scholarship because the Badgers wanted to use their final scholarship on a point guard. When it came time for younger brother Joey to make a college decision, the Badgers’ lack of interest in Sam clearly played a factor.
In Ruffin’s case, he’s no sure bet as a high-level Division I prospect. His only scholarship offer right now is from Division II Minnesota-Crookston. Maybe Wisconsin could have been more adamant about wanting Ruffin as a preferred walk-on, but that still wouldn’t change the team’s stance on a potential scholarship for him. There is a ton of guard depth, and Wisconsin has to pursue the best players it can when offering scholarships.
Johnson is good enough to go anywhere he wants. He has built a strong relationship with Wisconsin’s coaches, who watched him multiple times through his sophomore season. The Ruffin situation shouldn’t deter him from picking Wisconsin. The Badgers should be more concerned about the competition for Johnson, which will eventually include the top programs in the country.
Have a question about Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.