The early signing period for Wisconsin’s football program can be deemed a smashing success given that the Badgers officially inked all 19 of their committed prospects in drama-free fashion. But just because Wisconsin signed so many players doesn’t mean coaches won’t continue to look for one more prospect to help put the class over the top.
“You’re always going to keep looking,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said Thursday before his team left for the Orange Bowl. “Right now, the one thing I think that I don’t know when it kind of started going, but it’s been kind of gradual. You’re truly recruiting three classes right now. Two and a half for sure. There’s plenty of work to be done.
“Because of the calendar, guys will get a week off after the bowl game. That’ll be good for everyone. Our players get to go home for a good stretch. But then we’ll be back at it. There’s always work to be done.”
Wisconsin appears to have one more spot available in the 2018 class, and the Badgers have their sights on a couple of uncommitted prospects: wide receiver John Jackson (Gardena, Calif.) and cornerback Jairus Brents (Louisville, Ky.). If Wisconsin can land one of them when National Signing Day arrives on Feb. 7, it would be considered quite a coup.
Jackson is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior who has multiple schools after him, including Oregon, Tennessee and BYU. Jackson tweeted Monday that Nebraska offered him a scholarship.
Jackson finished his senior season with 63 catches for 573 yards with 2 touchdowns. As a junior, he caught 32 passes for 411 yards with 6 touchdowns.
The good news for Wisconsin is that Jackson has an official visit scheduled for Madison on Jan. 19.
“I think very highly of them especially after this really successfully season they had,” Jackson told Rivals.com this month. “I was on the phone with the wide receivers coach and he let me know I have an offer there so it was good hearing that.”
Jackson has an official visit scheduled for UCLA the weekend of Jan. 26, and it could be difficult for Wisconsin to pry him away from new Bruins coach Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offense. Jackson also said he intends to visit Illinois. But the fact Wisconsin will be able to bring him on campus is a huge bonus.
Wisconsin does not necessarily need another wide receiver given the current depth and the committed players for 2018. The Badgers will return Quintez Cephus, Kendric Pryor, A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis. Plus, Wisconsin is adding Aron Cruickshank, Isaac Guerendo, A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha.
Still, a team can never have too many weapons at the skill positions.
Brents, meanwhile, is a 5-9, 160-pound senior who is the top uncommitted prospect in Kentucky. He released his top 10 list of schools on Aug. 22: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Alabama, Purdue, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Indiana and USC. Brents visited Wisconsin for its Nov. 18 home game against Michigan.
Brents earned first-team all-state honors as a junior and senior. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, he recorded 62 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions this season. But he was a dynamic threat on offense and played quarterback for Louisville 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. According to the Courier-Journal, he also scored on 13 2-point conversion runs.
Wisconsin has three cornerbacks signed in the 2018 class with Travian Blaylock (Humble, Texas), Donte Burton (Loganville, Ga.) and Alexander Smith (Culver City, Calif.). But it is a position of need because the Badgers are losing seniors Derrick Tindal and Lubern Figaro. Junior Nick Nelson must decide whether he wants to return for his senior season or declare for the NFL draft.
Waggener coach Justin Johnson told Land of 10 in August that Brents felt comfortable with Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who ascended from a walk-on to a three-time All-America safety at Wisconsin. The 5-foot-8, 188-pound Leonhard then went on to a 10-year NFL career.
“He just really liked Wisconsin,” Johnson said of Brents. “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 nickelback just because he’s a little short.”
Wisconsin tried to land Will Honas (El Dorado, Kan.), the top junior college inside linebacker, by offering him a scholarship last week. Honas could have waited to sign until visiting campus in January. Instead, he signed Thursday with Nebraska. Without Honas, the recruiting process continues.
Whether Wisconsin can land another prospect remains to be seen. But it certainly won’t be for a lack of effort.