After an abbreviated 2020 football season that saw Wisconsin get off to a red-hot start, only to seemingly regress in every phase before downing Wake Forest in the esteemed Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Badger fans could use some good news.
Well Badger fans, the future is bright. Earlier this month on national signing day, when football programs across the country finalize their freshman class, Wisconsin was one of the teams that stood out.
With a class that checks in at 15th nationally, and third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Michigan, Wisconsin secured their highest rated group of freshmen ever. 21 commits will be joining the Badgers football program, six of which are four or five star recruits. Asked about his outstanding haul, head coach Paul Chryst said “It’s a really good day … We’re adding a group of guys that we think really fit this place and can help this team, and we’re excited about it.”
Chryst and company were able to secure commits from 12 states, but there was a major focus on homegrown talent. Three of the Badgers five four-star recruits hail from Wisconsin. This may not come as a surprise, but with no other major FBS school in the state, locking up the top players from nearby areas should be — and clearly is — a top priority.
The highest-touted recruit in this exceptional class is Nolan Rucci, a five-star offensive tackle out of Lititz, Pennsylvania. A 6 foot 8, 295 pound behemoth, Rucci was the fifth-ranked offensive tackle in the nation and the 15th overall prospect. On his highlight tape he resembles a man amongst boys, a punishing blocker who pushes defenders around like grocery carts. He will join his brother Hayden, a redshirt freshman tight end for the Badgers.
On Nolan, Chryst raves that he’s a “really talented football player, but a great person, and he comes from an awesome family.”
Wisconsin is often described as an offensive line factory, a pipeline to the NFL at the position. Things haven’t changed with this class, as the three highest ranked prospects the Badgers nabbed were offensive linemen.
The program and coaching staff clearly embrace this, as Chryst acknowledged “Everyone’s got a dream and a vision … It shows kids that are coming in that you can be the best offensive linemen in the country.” That, combined with his brother’s presence on the team, clearly helped secure Nolan Rucci’s commitment.
The current regime of coaching also continues to fortify and develop the defensive front seven, this year with players like Braelon Allen. Allen is a four-star, top-15 inside linebacker in the class of ‘21 out of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. A strong safety for most of his high school career, Allen will make the transition down into the box in college.
Unlike with most defensive backs that try to make this difficult transition, Allen appears more than physically capable. At 6 foot 1 and already 200 pounds, Allen is an absolutely ferocious hitter. He plays like a heat-seeking missile, flying to the football and blowing up the play. He’s also a monster in the weight room, squatting over 500 pounds on his YouTube channel.
Despite loading up on lineman and key defensive players as usual, Wisconsin also recruited some exciting offensive skill position players. Wide Receiver Markus Allen from Clayton, Ohio is the highest ranked offensive skill player the Badgers acquired, and he presents lots of upside and compelling intangibles.
In high school he displayed blazing acceleration at the top of his routes with great contested catch, jump-ball ability. Allen was originally committed to Michigan and recruited by Wolverines offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. This gives a clue as to what kind of player the Badgers have on their hands, as Gattis runs a spread-style offense that emphasizes, as he puts it, “speed in space.” Gattis is also known as a wide receiver guru, as he was the receivers coach on a 2018 Alabama team that was absolutely loaded at the position with current NFL players Jerry Jeudy, Calvin Ridley and Henry Ruggs III, and the most recent heisman winner Devonta Smith. Allen decommitted from Michigan in early September and was scooped up by the Badgers two months later.
Despite the lackluster 2020 season, Wisconsin has bounced back in the offseason with this class in a big way. The Badgers continue to be a team on the rise, as recruiting classes under Paul Chryst have shown steady improvement. In 2018, just three years ago, Wisconsin’s class was ranked 44th nationally at a dismal ninth in the Big Ten. Over the past two years, 11 four or five-stars have come to Madison, as opposed to just 12 the previous six years combined.
It’s also a big deal for the Badgers to land a five-star recruit. Two programs that finished with a higher ranked class than Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Oregon, didn’t nab a single five-star. Nolan Rucci is also the first five-star Wisconsin has procured since Logan Brown in the 2019 class, who is also an offensive tackle.
As Badgers fans patiently wait to see this recruiting momentum translate to the football field, they can rest assured that this newfound influx of high-end talent will surely put the rest of the Big Ten on notice.