Paul Chryst has certainly applied his calm, almost-emotionless demeanor to Wisconsin Football’s personnel decisions over his five full seasons as head coach thus far. Known for being patient with young talent, Chryst and his staff most recently redshirted five-star offensive lineman Logan Brown and the school’s highest-rated quarterback in history, Graham Mertz, last fall.
But there’s one true freshman on this year’s team that might just force Chryst’s hand in playing time during the newly-reinstated Big Ten season: offensive tackle Jack Nelson.
Nelson, a six-foot-seven behemoth on the field, is the centerpiece of a 2020 Wisconsin recruiting class that finished 26th in the nation according to 247Sports, the highest mark for UW reaching back to 2000.
Nelson’s recruitment came down to Michigan and Wisconsin, but the Stoughton, Wisconsin native didn’t see it as much of a competition.
“When Michigan offered me, I didn’t really consider it,” Nelson told the Daily Cardinal earlier this summer. “They just don’t have the culture that Wisconsin does at O-line. Wisconsin is the dream school to be offered as a lineman.”
When it comes to putting lineman into the pros, Nelson felt that the coaching staff at Wisconsin had proved to be among the very best in the country. The Badgers currently have seven active offensive lineman in the NFL as of week three this past Sunday.
As a newly-minted Wisconsin commit, Nelson impressed scouts at the All-American bowl in early January. It was a particularly big test for Nelson; his biggest critique as a prospect was the lack of high-end talent he’d competed against in WIAA Division 2.
“It was a fun week, but a little stressful from the jump in competition,” Nelson said. “Overall it was faster gameplay, stronger players, faster players. I thought I handled the competition pretty well.”
Another important Badger recruit was in San Antonio for that showcase — four-star running back Jalen Berger. Berger, the latest back in the New Jersey-to-Madison pipeline, is considered the successor to Jonathan Taylor — even if Chryst hasn’t committed to giving him carries this fall.
When asked about the relationship between lineman and running back, Nelson was adamant that the two units must work together to succeed.
“That relationship is a special relationship on the football team,” Nelson said. I got to meet Jalen at the All-American game. I’m really excited to get back to work and get to know him better.”
At the risk of looking too far into the future, Nelson, Brown, Mertz, and Berger are all being penciled in as important pieces for 2021 and beyond. With the recent commitment of 2021 five-star Nolan Rucci, the offense is as talented — at least on paper--as it has ever been in Madison.
The heightened expectations aren’t weighing negatively on the team, Nelson insists.
“I wouldn’t say we have a ton of pressure,” Nelson said. “The program is in a great direction, and our class definitely wants to add to that. We want to leave our mark.”