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Badgers Recruiting

4-star TE adds to Badgers impressive 2019 recruiting class

Wisconsin continues to impress on the 2019 recruiting trail, adding 4-star tight end Hayden Rucci to the mix on Monday morning

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The ink isn’t even ready on the fax machine for national signing day to finish up the 2018 class, but already the Wisconsin Badgers 2019 recruiting class is off to a flying start.

On Monday morning that class grew by one, as 4-star tight end Hayden Rucci gave his verbal pledge to the Badgers.

Rucci is the No. 11 ranked tight end in the country and the No. 3 ranked player in the state of Pennsylvania. He’s also fourth 4-star player in the 2019 class to give a verbal commitment to the Badgers.

He also chose the Badger over offers from the likes of Michigan State, Duke, Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, Boston College, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and others.

At 6-5, 225 pounds before he even enters the second half of his junior year, Rucci is in a good position to grow in to his frame and continue to show the pass-catching skills that are on display in his highlight film. Most importantly, he shows an ability to get in the trenches and block as well.

Perhaps my favorite highlight comes at about the one-minute mark here, as Rucci goes out to block on a run play and drives some poor linebacker about 20 yards down field before pancaking him for good measure.

If ever there was a high-skilled tight end that fit what Wisconsin likes to do at the position, Rucci is exactly that fit. His combination of blocking and being able to split out make him a dangerous prospect at the next level. It doesn’t hurt that he is a more finished prospect already than anyone not named Kyle Penniston was coming out of high school.

Rucci’s commitment isn’t just big for the position, it continues a start to the 2019 class that could see the Badgers one of the big players on the national recruiting scene. As we speak, Wisconsin has eight commitments in the class and half of them are 4-star players. Currently Wisconsin has the No. 1 ranked class in the Big Ten and the No. 3 ranked class in the country.

That’s what happens when you identify guys that are high priority targets early on in the process and have their verbal commitments early on as well.

Wisconsin’s eight commitments also has a larger effect on the recruiting processes of other players UW is targeting. While eight players doesn’t seem like a lot, by out count, the Badgers only have spots available for 14-16 players at the most. As the roster stands today, Wisconsin would have 79 of the 85 allowed scholarship players in the fold (including the 8 commits for 2019).

It means, the timelines for players who really want to be a Badger could be moving up. Additionally, it means the Badgers have a bigger luxury to lock in on top targets and really find out where they stand. Getting many of their top targets to commit this early is new territory for the Badgers, but it could be the cushion they need to really lock down a top class that could change things in a big way in Madison.

The excitement over this class is understandable and Rucci’s addition shows that the momentum is real for the Badgers. However, we’ve got nearly 11 months to go before the first signing day for this class and that means a lot of work still needs to be done to keep this group together.

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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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers 2019 QB Mertz has big week on camp circuit

UW’s top QB recruit in history is having himself a nice showing on the biggest of national stages.

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We’ve officially entered the period where it’s time to pace back and forth as a college football fan. After all, we’re just a month or so from the opening of fall camps and that means the anxiousness for another season reaches a fever pitch.

It also means a rough period in terms of actual news for most programs. Not so for the Wisconsin Badgers, who have been busy adding big pieces to their 2019 recruiting class.

However, the biggest piece to the 2019 class is arguably quarterback Graham Mertz. After re-affirming his commitment to the Badgers, it has been time to hit the camp circuit once again for the rising 4-star QB.

The final week of June saw Mertz dazzle those in attendance and his fellow players at the Rivals Challenge.

Mike Farrell named Mertz and Auburn commit Bo Nixon as the two most impressive quarterbacks at the event. He stated the two were “head and shoulders” above the rest at the event’s opening session.

Farrell wasn’t the only one that impressed according to The Zone sports director Zach Heilprin.

It was a perfect prelude to the biggest summer recruiting event of the year — The Opening Finals. For Mertz and 11 other quarterbacks it was also the Elite 11 finals.

Just 12 quarterbacks get invited to this prestigious event, where they receive intense scrutiny and some of the best coaching available outside of their actual college environments.

Mertz passed the test early on in the Elite 11 finals, impressing 247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong.

However, when the individual rankings of the QB’s came out from day to day at the event, Mertz wasn’t near the top. However, this seems to be more because he’s not showing off the big arm he has and is instead choosing to play it safe with underneath routes and short throws in 7-on-7 action. It very well could be that Mertz is simply there to compete and gain experience more than worrying about impressing so-called scouting experts.

There are still a few more days to go in the overall The Opening event, but one thing is very clear from Mertz’s performances over the last two big events of the summer — he is the elite level quarterback that Wisconsin fans have been waiting to see in the Cardinal and White.

Of course, this is projecting pure arm talent, but there’s no doubt that few quarterbacks come to UW with as much hype and hope attached to them as Mertz. The good news is that he came in to these events with plenty of hype and hope and lived up to it all.

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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers add pair of defensive recruits following weekend visits

UW continues a red hot 2019 recruiting class with two big additions on the defensive side of the ball.

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The University of Wisconsin’s summer official visit weekends are starting to pay dividends in the first year. With back-to-back weekends of large groups of official visitors, UW has now added two new members of the 2019 class.

On Sunday, defensive lineman Gio Paez, who is listed as a defensive tackle by 247Sports but will start as a defensive end, made his verbal pledge coming off the heels of his official visit.

Paez comes to the Badgers as the No. 66 ranked defensive tackle in the country and is the second player from the state of North Carolina in the class as of today.

Just 24 hours later, UW got commitment No. 12 in the class as high 3-star cornerback Semar Melvin made his verbal commitment via Twitter.

Melvin was long considered a big lean to the Badgers, but the official visit apparently sealed the deal.

Getting Melvin also continues the Badgers long tradition of pulling up and coming defensive backs out of South Florida. He picked UW over some major offers from the likes of Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia, Mississippi State, UCF, and others.

He joins fellow Florida cornerback James Williams from the Sunshine State and is the 27th player from the state to join the program since 2000.

The two commits have also had a big impact on the Badgers recruiting rankings. Wisconsin currently as the No. 19 ranked class in the country and the No. 3 class in the Big Ten.

UW is expected to have about 4 to 6 more spots available in this class and summer visits are going to continue to play a key role in getting this class completely put together.

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Badgers Recruiting

QB Graham Mertz earns invite to The Opening after Elite 11 showing

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The University of Wisconsin has ha a habit of getting their evaluations pretty spot on at the quarterback position since the arrival of head coach Paul Chryst.

So, when they went after little-known Mission (Kan.) Blue Valley North high school quarterback Graham Mertz early in the 2019 recruiting cycle it made others begin to take notice. Since that offer, Mertz has done nothing but live up to the Badgers early evaluation of him as a top pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class.

Over this past weekend, Mertz, who is rated a four-star prospect and the No. 5 ranked pro-style quarterback according to the 247Sports composite rankings, had a chance to cement himself as a member of the elite QB prospects in the class at the Elite 11 competition.

He did just that, earning high praise all weekend long and also earning an invite to The Opening along with 11 of the 24 other quarterbacks that were at the Elite 11 Finals this past weekend.

According to 247Sports’ Greg Biggins, Mertz had a great overall weekend despite a bit of an up-and-down day on Saturday.

“Mertz was great on Friday, struggled Saturday and was solid Sunday,” said Biggins. “He’s a high-upside kid with all the physical tools you could want in a next-level quarterback. When you combine his size and makeup as well, he has among the biggest potentials this group.”

Things looked really good for Mertz after Friday, with Biggins rating him as the No. 3 performer of the day.

For those following along with Mertz and the recruiting trail in general, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Wisconsin figured out his high upside potential far in advance of almost every other Power 5 program in the country and have been hanging on to his commitment despite his status as an elite prospect continuing to grow.

Hanging on has seemed to be the appropriate term, as fans have long seen a trend of UW being the first to get a commitment from a big player and watching the player blow up and de-commit. It has happened twice already in the 2019 class with four-star wide receiver Nolan Groulx and three-star safety Bryson Shaw.

It’s been a spring full of big offers for Mertz too, including hard efforts from the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame so far.

Through it all, Mertz has kept open communication with the Badgers coaching staff and has yet to take any other visits. However, this upcoming weekend could be huge, as Mertz comes to the Madison campus for his official visit.

Mertz has yet to publicly flat-out say he won’t be listening to the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame, but he also hasn’t set up any other official visits and hasn’t seen any other campuses that haven’t been around areas in which he has played games or been to camps this offseason.

With the Badgers winning back-to-back New Years Six contests and contending for a berth in the College Football Playoff this past season, it could be holding on to an elite prospect like Mertz that can make the difference going forward.

It is also good to know that UW will have a spotlight player at the biggest recruiting event of the summer in The Opening, which will take place June 30 – July 3 in Dallas, Texas.

This month is going to be huge towards setting the final push for UW’s 2019 class, and Mertz’s status and performance will be the biggest key to all of that.

 

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Badgers Recruiting

Badgers add in-state DT to 2019 recruiting class

Wisconsin stops a backslide in the 2019 recruiting class with the addition of an in-state DT.

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After starting off red-hot in the 2019 recruiting cycle, the past few weeks have been a bit tumultuous for the Wisconsin Badgers. With a pair of verbal commits backing off their pledges, UW needed some good news.

Late Friday night, that good news came in the form of a verbal commitment from rising 2019 defensive tackle Keeanu Benton.

He comes to the Badgers from Janesville (Craig), Wis. and with a hugely athletic background for a big man. At 6-4 and 295 pounds, Benton has the frame to be a big man in the middle for UW going forward.

Benton’s athleticism shouldn’t be questioned based on the tape and the fact that he is one of the state’s top heavyweight wrestlers. He was the runner up at 285 pounds at the 2018 state individual wrestling meet.

With the loss of Olive Sagapolu after this upcoming season, the Badgers coaching staff is going to need reinforcements at the position in a big way. Only incoming freshman Bryson Williams is currently capable of playing at the nose guard position in UW’s 3-4 defensive base scheme.

Following the loss of 4-star wide receiver Nolan Groulx and safety Bryson Shaw (Ohio State), getting back on track towards filling out the class was hugely important.

What will be interesting is if the Badgers continue to look for interior defensive line help, with only two players at the position and both of them within their first two years of eligibility.

UW currently sits with the No. 20 ranked class in the country and the No. 4 ranked class in the Big Ten. Benton’s addition also means the Badgers are up to eight verbal commitments in the class.

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