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.
2018 CB Jairus Brents back in fold
Just when it appeared as though Wisconsin might be out of the running for cornerback Jairus Brents (Louisville, Ky.), the Badgers apparently are firmly in the mix. That’s according to Louisville Waggener football coach Jordan Johnson, who told the Louisville Courier-Journal this week that Brents has three official visits scheduled in the coming weeks: Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Michigan State.
Johnson noted they would be Brents’ first three official visits.
“We’re running out of weekends,” Johnson wrote in a text message to the Courier-Journal. “We are hoping to know [about making a commitment] once officials are over.”
Brents is ranked as the No. 1 player in Kentucky for the 2018 recruiting class and is among the top uncommitted cornerbacks in the country. Back in August, he released a top 10 list of schools that included Wisconsin, and he visited campus to watch the Badgers’ victory against Michigan on Nov. 18. Things appeared to be trending in the right direction when Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports reported in December that Brents was deciding between Pittsburgh and Wisconsin and would take official visits to both schools in January.
But then Brents listed his top six schools to Sonny Shipp of 247Sports, and Wisconsin was nowhere to be found. He told Shipp that his top six schools were Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State, Duke, Pitt and Purdue and noted he would take all five of his official visits in January and February.
Brents told Shipp he was waiting on clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse regarding his most recent ACT score.
“I know when I get back home it will get crazy once I get cleared to take my officials,” Brents said. “I have some great relationships with some of the coaches recruiting me and I can’t wait to get to know some of these new schools. They have all been waiting on that test score, and when I get home and get that clearance, I can get these official visits set up.”
Wiltfong provided another update Thursday, noting that Brents was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh this weekend and tentatively slated to visit Wisconsin next weekend. It’s unclear at this stage whether Brents will academically qualify at Wisconsin. But the Badgers certainly could use a player of his talent in the secondary.
Brents earned first-team all-state honors as a junior and senior at Louisville Waggener. According to the Courier-Journal, he recorded 62 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions this season. He also was a dynamic threat on offense and played quarterback for Waggener. He passed for 972 yards with 13 touchdowns and ran for 481 yards. Brents scored 15 total touchdowns — 8 rushing, 2 receiving, 2 kickoff returns, 2 punt returns and 1 interception return. He also scored on 13 2-point conversion runs.
Wisconsin has three cornerbacks signed in its 2018 class: Travian Blaylock (Humble, Texas), Donte Burton (Loganville, Ga.) and Alexander Smith (Culver City, Calif.). But the Badgers are losing seniors Derrick Tindal and Lubern Figaro, as well as junior Nick Nelson, who declared for the NFL draft after Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl victory against Miami.
Johnson told Land of 10 in August that Brents had developed a good relationship with defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who was an undersized safety at 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds and became a three-time All-American at Wisconsin and a 10-year NFL player. Brents is listed at 5-10 and 178 pounds.
“He just really liked Wisconsin,” Johnson said. “He felt good. He loves Coach Leonhard. It really matches his style of play, and he loves the fact that Coach Leonhard played 10 years in the league and was a little undersized.
“Jairus, his one knock if you can say anything bad about him, it’s that he’s 5-9, 5-10. So playing for a coach where that doesn’t matter is extremely important to him. His skill set is a shutdown corner, and he doesn’t want to get stuck in the slot at all times being a nickel back just because he’s a little short.”
QB commit Graham Mertz earns Ohio State offer
When Graham Mertz committed to Wisconsin on Oct. 8 as a member of the 2019 recruiting class, he held three scholarship offers — from Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Some people may have wondered why Wisconsin would offer a prospect with such little college interest.
As it turned out, Wisconsin’s ability to identify Mertz’s talent was well ahead of the curve. Mertz guided his Blue Valley North (Kan.) team to its first state championship this season and subsequently earned scholarship offers from Ole Miss and Michigan. His latest offer came Wednesday from Ohio State, and it’s clear now that Mertz’s stock is on the rise.
— Graham Mertz (@GrahamMertz5) January 17, 2018
Mertz finished his junior season completing 269 of 434 passes (62 percent) for 3,684 yards with 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He participated this month in the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio, Texas, and was deemed one of the best quarterbacks at the event.
Given all the interest surrounding Mertz, there has been a general feeling of angst among Wisconsin fans about whether the Badgers can hold on to him over the next year. But Mertz and his father, Ron, reaffirmed his commitment to Land of 10 on Tuesday — one day before he earned the Ohio State offer. Ron Mertz said Badgers quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr visited his son Tuesday and that Graham “hasn’t shown any wavering.”
“He’s fully committed to Wisconsin,” Ron said. “It’s flattering to see all the other attention. There’s definitely kind of a sense that Wisconsin was here first, it feels right in my gut and that’s where he’s going to be. But any 17-year-old kid has to find some satisfaction in the attention of others. I’m sure he’s enjoyed that. I try to keep him grounded.”
Added Graham Mertz: “It’s different with Wisconsin. It’s a family there. It’s kind of hard to say no to family. Right now I’m just sticking with Wisconsin, sticking with my gut, and that’s where I want to be.”
For more on Mertz’s backstory, his sensational junior season and where he stands with Wisconsin, you can read my story, which posted on Thursday.
WR John Jackson reportedly cancels visit
Wisconsin signed all 19 of its committed prospects in the 2018 recruiting class during the December early signing period. But the Badgers have spent the ensuing weeks trying to nab another player to fill out the class. One potential candidate reportedly no longer is in the mix.
Evan Flood of Badger247 reported that wide receiver John Jackson cancelled his scheduled visit to campus this weekend.
“I wanted to go somewhere different,” Jackson told Flood.
Jackson finished his senior season in Gardena, Calif., with 63 catches for 573 yards with 2 touchdowns. As a junior, he caught 32 passes for 411 yards with 6 touchdowns. Jackson also was considering UCLA, where he was scheduled to visit next week, as well as Big Ten schools Nebraska and Illinois.
While Jackson certainly could have added depth to Wisconsin’s wide receiver group, the unit already is loaded with young talent. Wisconsin’s top four returning receivers will be juniors A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus, redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor and sophomore Danny Davis. The Badgers also signed four receivers in the 2018 class: Taj Mustapha (West Bloomfield, Mich.), A.J. Abbott (West Bloomfield, Mich.), Aron Cruickshank (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Isaac Guerendo (Avon, Ind.).