University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen understands the need for speed.
So, even in a recruiting class that needed to replenish the ranks in both the offensive and defensive lines, the Badgers found a way to address Andersen’s burning desire to get faster on both sides of the ball.
UW announced 25 scholarship recruits and five walk-ons on signing day Wednesday, which included six offensive linemen and three defensive linemen — the big guys up front who have paved the way for so much of the team’s success in recent years.
But the Badgers also addressed the speed issue with players like safety Serge Trezy, who defensive coordinator Dave Aranda described as “freakishly fast.”
“So much of what we see is three receivers, whether it’s a pro attack or spread attack,” Aranda said. “You have that speed on the field, so you want to match it the best you can.
“It’s generally going to require 6 feet tall, roughly 200 pounds, guys that are blurring the lines between a linebacker and a safety and a nickel (back). We’ve got a lot of those guys in this class.”
The Badgers struggled last season against potent passing attacks and addressed that by signing three safeties and two cornerbacks, though positions weren’t important to Andersen.
“We weren’t so much looking for corners or safeties, we were looking for young men that are highly competitive, that love the game of football and can run,” Andersen said.
UW must replace both safeties, with junior Tanner McEvoy moving back to quarterback and Dezmen Southward using up his eligibility. In addition to Trezy, the other safeties are 6-2 Austin Hudson, who is already enrolled, and 6-1 Lubern Figaro.
“There are some guys that have upped the ante in terms of athleticism on our squad,” Aranda said. “I’m so excited about the ways we can use them.”
The cornerbacks who were added include Derrick Tindal, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That’s the same hometown as last season’s freshman find, Sojourn Shelton, who started 12 games at corner. Tindal previously committed to Indiana before changing his mind in late January.
That’s a continuing trend in this class — a large number of players who committed elsewhere before switching to the Badgers. While past classes included few late surprises, this one kept fans on the edge of their seats up to signing day.
The other cornerback who signed, D’Cota Dixon, made his decision recently but waited for signing day to announce it.
Aranda said Dixon allows the Badgers to play with three cornerbacks on the field at the same time instead of being forced to use extra safeties in passing situations like last year.
“The corners we brought in are playmakers,” Aranda said. “I think the ball skill part of it is such a huge component. They both bring that.
“I feel the D-line is very strong. They’re going to step right in for some of the guys who are stepping out.”
The defensive linemen who signed include two state products: Conor Sheehy, from Milwaukee Marquette, and Billy Hirschfeld, from Hartland Arrowhead, both highly rated prospects.
“Love those two,” Andersen said. “Billy and Conor are exactly what you want. You just look in their eyes and they want to play early — and they can.”
The Badgers also addressed their speed on offense, primarily by signing five wide receivers.
“We’re looking for three of those guys to step in and contribute and hopefully impact the offense,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “We’re going to force-feed them.”
The shortest of the wide receivers is listed at 6 feet, and two are listed at 6-2.
“Very few high school kids are finished products, and usually if they are, everybody else in the world wants them, too,” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “But you want to see them be able to be exceptional at something and then be able to build on that.”
UW added a speedy change-of-pace running back in Caleb Kinlaw, a nice contrast to 6-1, 225-pound Taiwan Deal. Along with Ula Tolutau, who is going on a Mormon mission for two years, the three backs in this class combined to rush for more than 10,000 yards in high school.
“Caleb is more of scat-back, I would say,” Andersen said. “He’s a game-breaker. His ability to make big-time plays ... is there at any moment.”
Andersen said he was looking to add playmakers on offense because “Football gets a lot easier when you ... don’t have to call the perfect play.”
The haul in the offensive line had position coach T.J. Woods breathing a sigh of relief after being short-handed last season. The Badgers now have 14 scholarship linemen and hope to reach their goal of 16 by next year.
“I don’t want to say depth in the offensive line, because I feel like that’s short-changing guys,” Woods said. “You’re not bringing guys in for depth. But we need bodies. For us to be able to get six in one class is tremendous.”
So is combining that with the fast-twitch athletes that are in high demand with the prevalence of spread offenses.
“You can only teach so much technique when one guy’s out-running the other guy,” cornerbacks coach Ben Strickland said. “Speed is obviously something that’s incredibly important for us at the skill positions because the game is becoming more of a spread game.
“If you’re able to stop the run like we did (last) year, teams are going to take shots down the field. So, you have to have guys that can run (and) man them up. That’s first and foremost that we look for.”