Recruiting never stops in Badgers country, and we’re here to help put it all in perspective. Join us every Tuesday and Thursday night for a recap of Wisconsin recruiting news, insight on what’s happening behind the scenes and a glimpse at what’s coming next.
T Bryce Benhart’s recruitment heating up
The recruitment of Wisconsin’s 2019 football class is off to a rousing start, with eight committed players, including four 4-star prospects. That early success has Badgers fans salivating about which big-name player might commit next. One of the names on the short list that consistently surfaces is Bryce Benhart, a 6-foot-9, 285-pound tackle from Lakeville, Minn.
Benhart is a 4-star prospect who is rated as the No. 2 player in Minnesota and the No. 28 tackle in the country, per the 247Sports composite. Wisconsin was among the first schools to offer Benhart a scholarship on June 12, and he took two unofficial visits in September during the season to watch the Badgers play Utah State and Northwestern.
But given Benhart’s talent and size, Wisconsin has plenty of competition for his services. He now holds 12 scholarship offers. Since January, he has picked up offers from Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The Tennessee offer came on Wednesday.
Lakeville North football coach Brian Vossen said 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 told Land of 10. “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.”
Vossen said the schools that have consistently maintained a relationship with Benhart from the start of his recruitment are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa State and Northwestern. Benhart has taken at least six unofficial visits to Minnesota’s campus, which is about 30 minutes north of Lakeville.
But several more schools continue to take notice. Vossen said he spoke to new Tennessee running backs coach Chris Weinke on Tuesday. One day later, Benhart received an offer from the Volunteers. Vossen added that Ohio State coaches had been in contact with Benhart as well.
“I don’t know what the young man totally wants to do,” Vossen said. “Personally, I’d be very surprised if he traveled too far away. He just strikes me as a guy who’s got a close family, and the Midwestern thing seems to fit him, kind of a Big Ten-type guy.
“I think the same guys that he connected with, I feel like I’ve connected with. Joe Rudolph is a heck of a guy. He’s really done an awesome job. He’d be fun to play for.”
Bryce Benhart’s junior season highlights
Vossen described Benhart as a quiet individual who carries a lead-by-example mentality. He will be a three-year starter for Lakeville North and already has been voted as a team captain for the 2018 season. Vossen said he sees a prospect who still has room to grow into his body and could be a 340- or 350-pound college lineman.
“He’s a gigantic man,” said Vossen, who has been on the Lakeville North staff for 15 years, including the last eight as varsity coach. “It’s just different. I’ve never coached a kid or seen a kid look quite like him.”
Benhart is a standout wrestler and actually had to drop 15 pounds this winter so he could compete in the 285-pound heavyweight division. He played his football season at 300 pounds. Vossen noted wrestling has helped Benhart as a lineman to gain better leverage and win his 1-on-1 battles in the trenches.
“He’s got exceptional balance and flexibility for a guy his size,” Vossen said. “And, obviously, the coaches that have watched him on film and come in and seen him have recognized that right away ― that he’s rare.”
Wisconsin already has two tackles committed in the 2019 class with 4-star prospects Logan Brown (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Joe Tippmann (Fort Wayne, Ind.). Brown is the No. 7 tackle in his class and would be the second-highest-rated tackle to sign with Wisconsin in the history of the online recruiting ranking era. Benhart’s addition could help Wisconsin put together its best offensive line class.
Some Badgers fans have wondered if those two commitments at the same position might be a deterrent to Benhart picking Wisconsin.
“I haven’t asked him,” Vossen said. “But I think it’s obvious that every year if you go play college football, especially at a good program, there’s going to be a bunch of linemen that come in every year that you have to compete with. At that level, and especially as big as Wisconsin linemen are and the style of football they play, who knows? Tackles become guards. Guards become centers. People end up moving all over the place. At the end of the day, it’s, ‘Where do you need me to play so I can get on the field?’
“At 6-9, I can’t picture him playing guard just because it would look so odd. But his balance and footwork is good enough that he can do it. He does it some for us.”
LB Kyi Wright gains Wisconsin offer
Kyi Wright, a 6-2, 230-pound outside linebacker from Farrell, Pa., gained a Wisconsin scholarship offer on Tuesday. Wright is a 3-star prospect who ranks No. 7 in Pennsylvania and No. 28 nationally among outside linebackers for the 2019 class.
— ⚡️Kyi Wright‼️ (@Kyi_Dorian3) February 21, 2018
Wright’s other offers include Maryland, Michigan State, Pitt, Syracuse, Temple and UCLA. He visited Penn State for its junior day on Feb. 3 but has yet to receive an offer from the Nittany Lions. According to MaxPreps, Wright recorded 137 tackles as a freshman in 2015 and followed up that mark with 110 tackles as a sophomore. He also has played quarterback and tight end in high school.
QB commit Graham Mertz accepts Under Armour All-America Game invite
Wisconsin quarterback commit Graham Mertz continues to be recognized nationally. The latest honor came Tuesday, when he accepted an invitation to participate in the Under Armour All-America Game.
— Graham Mertz (@GrahamMertz5) February 21, 2018
The game, which started in 2008, is played every January in Orlando, Fla., and spotlights some of the top high school seniors in the country. Wisconsin has had four players represented in the game over the years: Tyler Westphal (2008), Konrad Zagzebski (2010), Kyle Pennison (2015) and Adam Bay (2017).
Mertz already has had a busy offseason since he committed to Wisconsin. He led Blue Valley North to the Kansas Class 6A state championship and finished the season completing 269 of 434 passes (62 percent) for 3,684 yards with 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He has picked up 12 more scholarship offers, including from Michigan, Ohio State, Miami, LSU, Georgia, Iowa, Alabama and Tennessee. Mertz earned the Alabama offer on Monday and the Tennessee offer on Thursday.
In January, Mertz participated in the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio. The combine featured 650 underclassmen from 2019, 2020 and 2021 who took part in testing, camp drills and 1-on-1 competitions. Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports named Mertz to his honorable mention team as the second-best quarterback at the combine.
Mertz is a 4-star prospect who ranks as the No. 9 pro-style quarterback in the country for 2019. His overall 247Sports composite rating is .8914, although that could rise given the attention he has received in recent months. Since 2000, only two quarterbacks to sign with Wisconsin have had a higher composite rating: Bart Houston (.9229) and D.J. Gillins (.8922).