The University of Wisconsin football team’s freshman class of wide receivers is not nearly as deep as it was just a few months ago.
Wide receiver Dareian Watkins, who was one of the highest ranked of the five receivers signed in February, will not play for the Badgers this season — or likely at any point — his father confirmed on Friday.
“Unfortunately, I think he’s making poor choices,” said Heath Watkins, who, along with his wife Cheryl, adopted Dareian when he was 11 to remove him from an abusive relationship with his birth mom. “We wish we could help him with those choices, but he is not open to help right now.”
Watkins, from Galion, Ohio, was a four-star recruit, according to ESPN.com, Rivals, Scout and 247 Sports. He is no longer with the team.
A source said another receiver, Chris Jones, met the NCAA’s initial eligibility standards but failed to meet UW’s standards. The Baltimore product is now enrolled at Toledo.
That leaves the Badgers with three freshmen wide receivers — Krenwick Sanders, from Jesup, Georgia; George Rushing, from Miramar, Florida; and Natrell Jamerson, from Ocala, Florida.
After an injury-filled spring at the position, UW wide receivers coach Chris Beatty was hoping to get some help out of his freshman class. Beatty said he had never before been through a spring with so many injured players.
“Not to this extent,” he said in the spring. “This is more than I’ve been around. You knew the numbers were going to be down because of attrition and stuff. That’s why we signed as many receivers as we signed. This many little nicks and injuries and stuff, you can’t predict that. That part is frustrating.”
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported reserve sophomore safety and former Milton athlete Nate Hammon left the program due to leg injuries, while reserve senior Bryce Gilbert left after graduating earlier in the year.
Gilbert was the backup nose tackle in the spring. Senior Warren Herring is the projected starter at that spot, with redshirt sophomore Arthur Goldberg the leading candidate to be the backup.
Other players who will not return this season, according to the Journal Sentinel, include: reserve cornerback Hugs Etienne, who was bothered by injuries; reserve linebacker Jake Rademacher; reserve punter Bret Nethery; and reserve Alex Walker, who moved from tight end to left tackle in the spring.
Watkins had the chance to be an inspirational story. In an interview prior to signing day, he called his adoption the second-biggest day of his life. The biggest came when he was taken away from his biological mother, the first important step in the long road to recovery.
“I was bouncing around to a couple homes and foster care, then I got settled in finally with this family,” Dareian said of moving in with Heath and Cheryl Watkins at the time. “To know it was a stable family, you weren’t going to get bounced out of the house or anything, was a good feeling.”
Dareian did a little bit of everything in high school. He was all-league at quarterback, wide receiver, safety and punter. Of his 21 scholarship offers, five came at quarterback.
At 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, he was a physical receiver who loved to block and patterned his game after former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward.
But things went downhill after Dareian turned 18 in January and decided to move out on his own.
“It’s really heartbreaking right now, considering what’s at stake,” Heath Watkins said. “I will say it’s no fault of the Wisconsin coaching staff or the university. They are phenomenal people, and they have bent over backward to help Dareian in any way possible.
“Dareian has chosen to surround himself with a few people that will tell him what he wants to hear, and he has kind of eliminated all of the people that tell him what he needs to hear. That was actually a direct quote from coach Beatty. ... I couldn’t agree with him more.”
Heath Watkins said he and his wife, along with the UW coaches, all tried to help Dareian make better choices to no avail.
A year ago, Heath Watkins saw little indication of something like this happening. But that all changed after Dareian moved out on his own.
“He was homesick and wanted to be home and made some poor decisions ... the (UW) coaches did everything they could to keep him there,” Heath Watkins said. “There’s nothing more they really could have done.
“We love him and we wish him the best and have hope for him still, but this is all on him. These are his choices.”