The days are getting longer, but the countdown to national signing day is getting shorter. It means time to crank up the look back at the last decade in Wisconsin Badgers recruiting.
If there is one position that has been up and down throughout the history of Badgers football, that would be wide receiver. There have been greats, but there have also been periods of nothing at the position as well.
The last decade is a great microcosm of exactly that, so who did the Badgers hit on in the 2007-2016 recruiting classes?
5. David Gilreath
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 76 at WR, No. 3 in Minnesota(2007)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 67 receptions, 1,077 yards, 4 TD’s
While the receiving numbers alone may not be super impressive, there were few more dangerous weapons on the field than when Gilreath stepped on it to return kicks or punts.
Gilreath will always be remembered for giving everyone the signal that the upset of Ohio State was in the making back in 2011:
His explosive ability came at a perfect time, with Brandon Williams off to the NFL and kick/punt returner needed badly. There was no hesitation and Gilreath became a valuable playmaker for this team — so much so that other teams began to have to game plan around him on special teams or in other areas.
4. Jeff Duckworth
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 110 at WR, No. 45 in Ohio
Career Wisconsin Stats: 39 receptions, 498 yards, 4 touchdowns
When you make one of the most historic catches and are part of one of the most iconic moments in Big Ten history, you get on this list. Duckworth may not have been this eye-popping receiver most of his career, but he was a steady hand in a loaded receiver corp. when he arrived as part of the 2008 class.
Let’s just all remember his moment of brilliance…because Badgers fans are sure to never let him go a day without being asked about it.
3. Alex Erickson
Recruiting Info: NR
Career Wisconsin Stats: 141 receptions, 1,877 yards, 6 TD’s
Wisconsin high school football prospects are seemingly never getting the respect they deserve. No one is a better example of that than Alex Erickson out of Darlington. He never was on the radar of the recruiting services and never got ranked, but the Badgers gave him a scholarship anyway.
He made that faith in his potential pay off in a big way as the go-to receiver for the Badgers during a difficult period of transition. He even went through some tough times in 2014, missing the entire season and coming back for a senior year that saw him rack up 77 receptions and rank No. 2 in program history for single-season receptions.
It was an incredible feat considering everyone and anyone knew that Erickson was really the only big weapon for the Badgers passing game. Yet, he came through time and again when called upon. Few players have risen faster and been more consistent at the receiver position than Erickson.
Following his days at UW, Erickson has become a kick return specialist for the Cincinnati Bengals.
2. Jared Abbrederis
Recruiting Info: walk-on
Career Wisconsin Stats: 202 receptions, 3,140 yards, 23 touchdowns; 291 yards, 2 TD’s rushing
Few football programs have the walk-on tradition that Wisconsin has built. Don’t believe me, I suggest checking out the great read that is Walk-On This Way – The Ongoing Legacy of the Wisconsin Football Walk-On Tradition then.
One of the better stories in the past decade is that of Jared Abbrederis, who went from small town quarterback to arguably the biggest star at wide receiver in decades. Of course, Abbrederis didn’t sing on the dotted line on national signing day back in his recruiting process, but the coaching staff identified him as a preferred walk-on and eventually he earned his scholarship.
He also eventually earned his way in to the record books — tied at the top with 202 career receptions, No. 2 in receiving yards and touchdowns and No. 1 in single-season receptions with 78 back in 2013.
It is safe to say few walk-on’s have had the impact on a skill position the way Abbrederis has done.
1. Nick Toon
Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 54 at WR, No. 3 in Wisconsin (2007)
Career Wisconsin Stats: 171 receptions, 2,447 yards, 18 TD’s
There isn’t a more famous last name at wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin than Toon. Simply put, Al Toon was an all-time great, period. It didn’t matter what school he represented.
So, living up to that kind of pressure could be hard. However, the younger Toon did just that and then some. He was part of championship football teams and became a go-to player as part of the most difficult one-two punch we’ve seen in some time between himself and former walk-on Jared Abrederis.
After a promising sophomore campaign, Toon struggled through some injury issues and wasn’t the breakout player most expected. He only played in nine games and caught just 36 balls for 459 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.
But, his senior season was a magical one thanks to one Russell Wilson in the mix at quarterback. Wilson and Toon were in sync for a lot of that campaign and it showed with 64 receptions for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Toon wasn’t just great because of the numbers, he was great because he brought something to the table that few did to UW before him or after him. His ability to high-point a football and concentrate a catch right in to completion were sights to behold.
But, the numbers don’t hurt either and Toon can be found all over the career lists at UW. He is No. 4 in receiving yards and receptions, No. 6 in career touchdowns and his 64 receptions in 2011 put him No. 5 on the single-season receptions list in the Cardinal and White.
Safe to say there were few better than him, ever, and had he been fully healthy in his junior season he may have been a top just about every career mark.