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.
Impact of Wisconsin recruiting saga at St. Xavier (Ohio) High
During the course of my reporting for a feature story on incoming Wisconsin quarterback Chase Wolf, his high school coach told me something I’d never before heard — that the Badgers coaching staff was barred from recruiting on that campus.
That information led to a second story, which published Tuesday and detailed a rift that had developed between Cincinnati St. Xavier High football coach Steve Specht and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst more than six years ago when Chryst was at Pittsburgh. The short version is that Specht was upset that Chryst did not accept the commitment of a St. Xavier player after he took over the coaching job at Pitt. Chryst said the player, who committed to a previous coaching staff, was undersized and would not have played for him. That player ultimately committed to Miami (Ohio).
While Chryst insisted he apologized to Specht in the aftermath of the situation, Specht said Chryst had not done so. As a result, Specht made it clear that any coaching staff under Chryst was not allowed to recruit at St. Xavier.
Of course, Wisconsin landed Wolf anyway, in part by being upfront and honest with the family about why coaches weren’t able to recruit him at the high school.
If anything, the manner in which Chryst and his staff were able to sign Wolf should signify how strong Badgers coaches are as recruiters. They signed Wolf despite the fact that every other program could visit him at his high school, including Ohio State, which tried to sway him near the end of the cycle.
It’s unfortunate that any high school athlete is put in a position of playing a waiting game when a new college coaching staff arrives. Perhaps Chryst could have communicated where things stood with the player more quickly to provide him with more options. On the other hand, Chryst had about a month to put together a staff and evaluate what committed players would fit well in his system after he arrived at Pitt in late December 2011. He also still had to coach Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator. The situation was far from ideal.
Chryst said he believed he tried to do what was in the best interests of the program and the player. Better that the player finds a school where he can play than stay at Pittsburgh and not play at all.
The biggest takeaway about Chryst based on my conversations in recent months with families of Wisconsin signees and commits is his honesty and down-to-earth nature. Chryst spends as much time, if not more, talking to families about life rather than football. He sees the bigger picture and appears to be genuinely concerned about giving the players he recruits the best and most fair opportunities possible. Rare are the people who have an issue with Chryst, which is why the story was so surprising.
Obviously, the fallout from the Chryst-Specht rift is that Wisconsin hasn’t had a presence at St. Xavier, an Ohio football powerhouse that produces FBS players every season. Wolf notwithstanding, Wisconsin hasn’t been involved in recruiting at the school since Chryst arrived at Wisconsin.
In 2015, three St. Xavier players were ranked among the top prospects in Ohio: outside linebacker Justin Hilliard, athlete Ben Glines and defensive tackle Simeon Lane. Hilliard committed to Ohio State, Glines to Boston College and Lane to Princeton. All three players committed before Chryst arrived at Wisconsin. Pittsburgh and Wisconsin did not offer any of them.
In 2016, St. Xavier’s top three college prospects were tight end Noah Davis (Michigan State), tackle Nick Meyer (Georgia State) and tight end Andrew Homer (Miami Ohio). Davis, the highest-rated of the three, earned a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi but not Chryst at Wisconsin. Wisconsin signed tight end Jake Hescock, who transferred after one season to UCF.
In 2017, St. Xavier’s top two prospects were quarterback Sean Clifford (Penn State) and guard Matt Bockhorst (Clemson). Neither player earned an offer from Wisconsin. Clifford had 17 offers, including from Pitt, while Bockhorst tallied 14 offers. Wisconsin signed quarterback Jack Coan and guard Kayden Lyles, the No. 14 guard in the country.
The FBS pipeline at St. Xavier is far from finished. Specht pointed out that St. Xavier’s Paris Johnson, the No. 1 tackle in the 2020 class, has 35 scholarship offers — but not one from Wisconsin.
Even if one high school — albeit an important one — is primarily off limits to Wisconsin, the Badgers have plenty of other programs across the country where they can recruit. They’ve also shown they can still recruit at that school if the player expresses enough interest.
In the end, hopefully Chryst and Specht can mend fences and provide St. Xavier players with more opportunities in their recruitment.
Wisconsin QB commit Graham Mertz earns Notre Dame offer
Quarterback Graham Mertz’s scholarship offer list since he committed to Wisconsin reads like a who’s-who list of the best programs in college football. The latest such offer came Wednesday night from Notre Dame.
Received an offer from the University of Notre Dame! pic.twitter.com/5ua4W9tFWr
— Graham Mertz (@GrahamMertz5) April 19, 2018
Mertz now holds offers from 18 programs — 15 of which came after his Badgers commitment on Oct. 8. Those offers came from Alabama, Arizona State, Georgia, Iowa, LSU, Michigan, Miami, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Mertz, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, is ranked as the No. 9 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite. He has reiterated his commitment to the Badgers and remains active in recruiting players to join Wisconsin’s 2019 class. But it’s worth noting that Tom Loy, a college football recruiting writer for 247Sports, reported that Mertz has maintained a relationship with Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tom Rees since he visited the South Bend campus last summer for a football camp.
Loy also put an early 247Sports Crystal Ball on Mertz flipping his commitment to Notre Dame, citing the Fighting Irish interest in Mertz and that “the expectation is that Mertz will return to campus soon to give the Irish a look.”
If Mertz ultimately begins visiting other programs, that could spell trouble for the Badgers. Wisconsin coaches generally prefer that players not commit to the Badgers until they’re ready to end their recruitment. Mertz’s situation is unique because he became a nationally known name after he committed to Wisconsin.
Mertz led Blue Valley North (Kan.) to a state championship in his first season as a varsity starter last season. He completed 269 of 434 passes (62 percent) for 3,684 yards with 45 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Mertz then performed well at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio in January. He also earned a prestigious Elite 11 finalist spot as one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country after excelling at a regional in the Atlanta area last month. The finals takes place June 1-3 in Los Angeles.
Wisconsin RB target Steele Chambers commits to Ohio State
Wisconsin’s pursuit of a second running back for its 2019 recruiting class will continue. Steele Chambers, one of the Badgers’ top targets at the position, announced his commitment to Ohio State on Wednesday night.
— Steele Chambers (@steelechambers) April 19, 2018
Chambers is a 6-2, 215-pound junior from Roswell, Ga., who holds 27 scholarship offers. He is a 4-star prospect who is rated as the No. 29 athlete in the country, according to the 247Sports composite. Tim McFarlin, his football coach at Blessed Trinity High School, told Land of 10 in early March that Chambers had Wisconsin in his “top three or four” at the time and had developed a good relationship with Badgers running backs coach John Settle.
“Steele sees a lot of value in Wisconsin,” McFarlin said. “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.
“A lot of schools have gone the other route and said, ‘Look, we like you at linebacker, but we’re also going to look at you at running back.’ I think moving on to college, he’s ready to have it defined. He’s ready to know what the colleges want and just lock in on one thing, and it’s time for that to happen.”
Chambers put together stellar seasons in each of the last two years. As a sophomore, he gained 1,486 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns. On defense, he tallied 74 tackles. During his junior season, Chambers helped lead Blessed Trinity to its first football state championship since the program 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 has one commitment at running back for 2019 with Julius Davis (Menomonee Falls, Wis.). Davis carried 257 times last season for 1,762 yards and 17 touchdowns. Davis has earned scholarship offers this offseason from LSU, USC and Notre Dame but remains firmly committed to Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has scholarship offers out to nine running backs in the class. One name to watch is Patrick Garwo (Fairless Hills, Pa.), who recently included the Badgers in his top six, along with Boston College, North Carolina, Rutgers, Syracuse and Virginia.
Badgers offer scholarship to CB Shamar Martin
Wisconsin offered a scholarship Tuesday to cornerback Shamar Martin, a 6-0, 174-pound junior from San Diego.
— Shamar A. Martin (@__district4) April 17, 2018
Martin holds 17 scholarship offers, which includes Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, Washington State, Colorado, Nebraska and Utah. The 247Sports website rates him as a 3-star prospect and the No. 43 cornerback in the 2019 class.