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A Decade in Wisconsin Badgers Recruiting: Top 5 Safeties

As national signing day creeps closer and the Badgers have the 2017 class all in the fold, it’s the perfect time to look back throughout the history of the program and its recruiting efforts.

So, as we wind down recruiting season we’re going to look back at the last decade of recruiting for the Cardinal and White. With three coaching staffs to pick from, there are plenty of different recruiting styles and players to look after.

Previous Positions: Quarterback |

No side of the ball has undergone more in the past decade than UW’s defense. Countless position coach changes and a ton of names under the title of defensive coordinator and even a switch to the 3-4 defense have all happened.

Yet, one thing has remained the same — Wisconsin’s safeties have always been good. Just how good? Let’s take a look at this list.

5. Dezmen Southward

Recruiting Info: 2-star, No. 134 Safety, No. 219 in Florida
Career Wisconsin Stats: 152 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions

Wisconsin has long been great at identifying and pulling lesser-known talent out of the state of Florida and no example is really better than Southward. It’s not often that players from the famed St. Thomas Aquinas program go under the radar, but Southward certainly did.

He became a two-year starter at safety and played well enough to earn himself an NFL career. That came as the No. 68 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Over the course of his career at Wisconsin Southward racked up 152 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions.

No game was likely more memorable for him than that of the Arizona State contest in 2013, and you can see why here:

A 2-star recruit becoming a starter at Wisconsin, let alone an NFL draft pick is a rare-enough story. But, Southward earned every moment he was on the field for Wisconsin.

4. Leo Musso

Recruiting Info: 2-star, No. 124 RB, No. 8 in Wisconsin
Career Wisconsin Stats: 108 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 8 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries

While the recruiting services has Musso as a running back, which he played a starring role as in high school for Waunakee, he was always going to be something else at Wisconsin. That something else became an undersized but productive safety.

Musso became a full-time starter by his senior season, but played a role in the defensive backfield from the time he stepped foot on campus as a member of the 2012 signing class. He played in 33 career games from his freshman season on, but played his biggest role this past season.

In 2016, Musso had 74 of his 108 career tackles and was about as big a ball hawk as you’d find at safety, collecting five of his eight career interceptions as well. Musso was a steady hand for a team in transition at the back of the defense and his leadership is going to be missed as he departs for a potential NFL career ahead of him.

3. D’Cota Dixon (2014)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 73 Safety, No. 127 in Florida (2014)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 78 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 4 INT’s, 5 Passes Defensed

It may be that this ranking is too low, but Dixon has one more season of eligibility left and if 2016 was any indication the Badgers have a lot to look forward to with him in the defensive backfield in 2017.

Dixon took advantage of learning from some of the better safeties in UW history and burst on to the scene this past season. He became a fearsome hitter and also an all-around playmaker for the Badgers this past year. That resulted in 60 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions.

He started the season off with a bang, picking off LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to seal the victory at the Lambeau Field Classic, made quarterbacks pay for mistakes all season long and then did it again in the Cotton Bowl Classic victory over Western Michigan.

What will 2017 hold for him?

2. Michael Caputo

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 31 Safety, No. 16 in Pennsylvania (2011)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 244 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 17 passes defensed, 5 fumble recoveries

If there was an award for the most game-changing safety of the past decade at Wisconsin, it would easily go to Caputo. He was easily the biggest beneficiary of the coaching change that happened heading in to the 2013 season. The switch to the 3-4 defense under Dave Aranda allowed Caputo to shine as a linebacker in a safeties body.

Teams had to take stock of where he was on the field, and had it not been for injury in 2015, Caputo may have been a household name across the Big Ten. However, there was no shortage of attention paid to him in 2014.

That’s because Caputo racked up 106 tackles on the season and earned him second team All-Big Ten honors in a loaded season for defensive backs.

1. Aaron Henry (2007)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 40 cornerback, No. 80 in state of Florida
Career Wisconsin Stats: 181 tackles, 7.0 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks, 7 interceptions

Henry was one of the gems of the 2007 class even before he stepped foot on campus officially. In fact, few players of his caliber escape Florida for the Big Ten and especially not for Wisconsin.

That proved true once he arrived on campus as well, with Henry coming up huge in the mix as a defensive back throughout his freshman season. He would finish the year with 38 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception. It helped him earn All-Big Ten freshman and Freshman All-American honors by The Sporting News in 2007.

It was just the beginning to a brilliant career at UW. He would sit out the 2008 season with a knee injury and switch full-time to safety the following year. Henry was a scary individual for opposing offenses to scheme against thanks to his size and speed combination.

Eventually that bore out on the field and in post-season honors, as Henry was named to second team All-Big Ten in 2010 and first team All-Big Ten by the coaches in 2011.

Henry just moved on to his second full-time coaching gig late last week, accepting a position with North Carolina State after one year as the assistant defensive backs coach at Rutgers under former UW co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball


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