Wisconsin recruiting: Hits & misses from the Class of 2014
To have sustained success in college football, you’ve got to recruit like a champion. Whether you’ve got a nationally-ranked class or you’re pulling up the rear in your own conference, every class has hits and misses that ultimately define it.
Who have been the biggest surprises – good and bad – in your favorite school’s recent classes?
We continue our recruiting series with Wisconsin, and we’ll keep looking at one a team a day. (Thursday is Iowa.)
When you roll through three head coaches in four years at a major college program, recruiting is sure to take a hit during the transition. That’s certainly been the case at Wisconsin lately. From Bret Bielema to Gary Anderson and now Paul Chryst, it’s been a whirlwind few years.
Staying in the mix on big names isn’t easy, and it’s been a struggle in Madison. The Class of 2014 is a perfect example of that. There were no 5-star recruits, only three 4-star recruits and 20 3-star recruits, putting Wisconsin fifth in the Big Ten recruiting rankings in 2014, and 33rd nationally.
But none of the three 4-stars ever made a contribution, and they’re all gone. Every last one of them. It’s hard to stay competitive when that happens, but thankfully there’s been a lot of positive surprises in the class as well.
Here are the hits and misses from Wisconsin’s class.
Who has stepped up
T.J. Edwards, inside linebacker: All the linebacker did during his first season on the field was lead the Badgers in tackles and earn a place on the Football Writers Association of America All-Freshman team. Edwards came to Madison as just a 2-star recruit according to the 247Sports rankings – to be fair, other services had him as a 3-star – but he’s certainly played at a much higher level than that.
Edwards played mostly quarterback in high school, so he didn’t have much of a reputation as a linebacker when he arrived in Madison. After redshirting, he took the bull by the horns in the spring of 2015 and worked his way into the starting rotation. He’s been great ever since and the 6-foot-1, 239-pounder is key piece to a linebacking group that just might be the best in the Big Ten.
Rafael Gaglianone, placekicker: Gaglianone hit the ground running after arriving in Madison, winning the job as a true freshman and kicking a 51-yard field goal against LSU in his first game. He had a solid freshman year (19 of 22 field goals made) and seemed to solve the Badgers’ kicking woes.
He struggled a bit with consistency as a sophomore, missing nine kicks but he’s vowing to come back strong after shedding approximately 20 pounds during offseason training. The Brazilian, a 3-star recruit, was a good find, especially if he’s back to his consistent ways this year.
Taiwan Deal, running back: Deal was starting to put together a great season in 2015 before an ankle injury derailed his progress. He was second on the team in rushing, gaining 503 yards on 117 carries. His breakout game came against Hawaii, where he gained 147 yards on 26 carries. He got hurt early in the game against Nebraska on Oct. 10 and missed the next three games.
He finished the season strong with a 90-yard performance against Minnesota in the regular season finale and made a statement in the spring by doing well while getting most of the work. The Badgers backfield is still crowded, but the 3-star recruit from Capital Heights, Md., is lobbying hard to continue to get plenty of playing time.
The (big) misses
Jaden Gault, offensive tackle: Several problems, both physical and emotional, sidetracked Gault’s career at Wisconsin. He was one of only three 4-star recruits that year, but he never played a down for the Badgers. His was a sad and disappointing story. Highly regarded coming out of Monona Grove, Gault dealt with severe depression issues after the deaths of a grandfather (cancer) and a 30-year-old uncle (blood clot) in a short period of time.
The Badgers staff gave him time to get well, but when it was determined by doctors later that year that he had blood clot issues of his own in his lungs, he decided to retire from football as a health precaution. He never practiced or played for the Badgers.
Dareian Watkins, wide receiver: Watkins was another 4-star recruit who never once suited up for the Badgers. The highly regarded wide receiver from Galion, Ohio, showed up in Madison in the summer of 2014 but got homesick after a week and went home.
Badgers coaches begged him to come back, and he did. But when he left again two days later, the staff parted ways with him. Watkins’ family and high school coaches all called his departure “stupid” and many agreed, because there was plenty of hope that he was going to be a standout receiver for UW.
D.J. Gillins, quarterback/wide receiver: Gillins was the third of Wisconsin’s trio of 4-star recruits, and he’s gone now too. Gallons didn’t have any off-the-field problems, but got caught up more than others with all the coaching changes. As a dual-threat quarterback who was a much better runner than a passer, he didn’t fit into Paul Chryst’s plans for a pro-style passing attack.
Gillins switched to wide receiver but couldn’t find a niche and never made a catch as a Badger. He transferred to a junior college in Mississippi so he could play quarterback again.