Chryst-early signing day

Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst during a stop in play in the second quarter of a game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. In background is Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Kare Lyles (19). M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

M.P. KING

There couldn’t have been less drama for the University of Wisconsin during college football’s first early signing period, which began Wednesday.

The Badgers accumulated 19 scholarship commitments in their 2018 recruiting class, 18 of which pledged to UW more than five months ago. All 19, along with seven preferred walk-ons, submitted letters of intent by 10 a.m.

“It was all a decision made by us,” Milan (Mich.) High offensive lineman Michael Furtney said. "The coaches, obviously they like that we all wanted to sign early, but it was a decision between all of us. We’re all firm commits, and we figured, why wait? Why wait to make it official when you can just do it early?"

The Badgers may add more prospects to the class between now and National Signing Day on Feb. 7, but UW at least has the large majority of its class locked up.

Five of the 19 commitments — safety Reggie Pearson, athlete Aron Cruickshank, cornerback Donte Burton, wide receiver Taj Mustapha and nose tackle Bryson Williams — are excepted to enroll early in January.

Furtney, Pearson and Mustapha, along with wide receiver A.J. Abbott and tight end Jaylan Franklin, all hail from Michigan. With only four in-state scholarship recruits, it marks the first time since 2000 that a state had more Badgers scholarship signees than Wisconsin.

The class was also highlighted by highly-ranked inside linebacker Jack Sanborn and four defensive backs that UW coach Paul Chryst told the Big Ten Network had good size and positional flexibility.

The Badgers also appeared to bring in plenty of solid skill position players. They added a mobile quarterback in Chase Wolf from Cincinnati, along with three wide receivers — Mustapha, Abbott and Indiana native Isaac Guerendo — to an already young and talented group already on the roster.

Chryst seemed particularly excited about running back Nakia Watson when asked about the Austin, Texas, native Wednesday on BTN. At 6-foot and 226 pounds, the powerful Watson rushed for 1,938 yards and 27 touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry this season, and Chryst said he believes the incoming freshman could become an ideal pairing for Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor.

"I think he’s going to be a heck of a complement to JT,” Chryst said. "What he’s done and the type of year that he’s had, it’s been impressive to follow.

"I think he’s got his own style, but he’s going to add a ton to the group, and I think JT’s one of the guys that was excited about him as well — someone that will kind of help him a little bit and not have to carry the full load. I think he can be a great back along with JT."

The only inkling of drama for UW leading up to this early signing period, which runs through Friday, came from Williams’ late wavering.

New Nebraska coach Scott Frost offered the Lincoln native this month after the Cornhuskers’ previous regime hadn’t, leading Williams to consider flipping his commitment.

“Oh man, it was the only thing in my head throughout a lot of days and until nighttime when I was in bed — just because of the short time I had to make the decision and just because of exactly what the decision was,” Williams told the Lincoln Journal Star. "It was definitely one of the biggest decisions of my life, and I had a little over a week-and-a-half to make it. I thought about it all the time.

“One of the reasons I considered Nebraska (late in the process) was because I heard rumors (UW defensive line coach Inoke) Breckterfield was leaving for Oregon State, but then he gave me his word he’s staying for a couple years. That was really important to me."

He ultimately reaffirmed his commitment to the Badgers last week. With three senior defensive linemen leaving UW after this season, Williams could push for early playing time.

For UW’s other 18 scholarship signees, their decision to sign Wednesday appeared to be an easy one.

“I think that’s kind of the purpose of the early signing,” Chryst said on BTN. "For those that are committed and have been for a while, it gives them a chance to sign before the holidays and kind of not have to go through the January part of recruiting.

"We’re fortunate we didn’t have any surprises. ... They’ve all been committed for a while, so it was good today."


SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS

A.J. Abbott, WR

High School (Hometown): West Bloomfield (Northville, Mich.)

Height: 6-2

Weight: 187

Notable: Led West Bloomfield to Michigan Division 1 state championship game as a senior while logging 1,200 receiving yards and eight touchdowns … recorded 24 touchdowns and 2,928 total yards across high school career … also competed in track and field, twice qualifying for state meet in the long jump.

Travian Blaylock, CB

High School (Hometown): Atascocita (Humble, Texas)

Height: 6-0

Weight: 180

Notable: Recorded 149 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, five interceptions and three forced fumbles for his career … also competed in track and field, finishing second at the Class 6A state championships in the triple jump as a junior (49 feet, 7 1/4 inches) ... father, Derrick, played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets from 2001 to 2007.

Donte Burton, CB

High School (Hometown): Loganville (Loganville, Ga.)

Height: 6-0

Weight: 175

Notable: Recorded 127 tackles, eight interceptions, two forced fumbles, 423 total return yards and one return touchdown in prep career … finished with 28 tackles, three interceptions and one return touchdown as a senior ... father, Dexter, played football at Georgia from 1993-94.

Aron Cruickshank, ATH

High School (Hometown): Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Height: 5-11

Weight: 158

Notable: Helped lead team to the New York City PSAL championship game in back-to-back years, winning the title as a junior and finishing that season with with 24 touchdowns and 1,009 rushing yards … four-year academic honor roll student.

Boyd Dietzen, DE

High School (Hometown): Kimberly (Combined Locks)

Height: 6-4

Weight: 245

Notable: Named state Defensive Player of the Year as a senior by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association, recording 70 tackles, 20 for loss, and 10 sacks. ... three-time all-state performer in track and field, winning state title in discus as a junior ... cousin, Jon Dietzen, is offensive lineman for the Badgers.

Jaylan Franklin, TE

High School (Hometown): O.A. Carlson (Brownstown, Mich.)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

Notable: Recorded 1,504 passing yards, 888 rushing yards, 145 receiving yards and 33 total touchdowns over three-year varsity career … on defense, logged 60 career tackles, six sacks, and two defensive touchdowns. ... all-state in track and field as a junior, finishing seventh in 300-meter hurdles (39.44).

Michael Furtney, OG

High School (Hometown): Milan (Milan, Mich.)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 290

Notable: Named first-team all-state and all-region as a junior and senior … recorded total of 282 tackles and 13.0 sacks for his career … racked up 100 tackles, six sacks and 75 receiving yards as a senior. ... honor roll student with a 4.0 cumulative GPA … National Honor Society.

C.J. Goetz, OLB

High School (Hometown): Catholic Memorial (Muskego)

Height: 6-4

Weight: 230

Notable: First-team all-state by Associated Press and Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a junior and senior … recipient of John Anderson Award as state’s top senior linebacker … finished with 150 tackles, 26 for loss, nine sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions as a senior.

Isaac Guerendo, ATH

High School (Hometown): Avon (Clayton, Ind.)

Height: 6-1

Weight: 195

Notable: Received Indiana Mr. Football position award as state’s top wide receiver as a senior … four-year all-conference pick … caught 54 passes for 1,258 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. … state champion in the long jump as a junior, with a personal-best leap of 24-5 1/4.

Isaiah Mullens, DE

High School (Hometown): Harvest Prep (Columbus, Ohio)

Height: 6-6

Weight: 280

Notable: Named All-Ohio as a senior and junior ... four-year all-conference selection … finished with 56 tackles, seven TFLs and six pass breakups as a senior ... also scored 19 touchdowns on 42 career receptions … four-year honor roll student.

Taj Mustapha, WR

High School (Hometown): West Bloomfield (Southfield, Mich.)

Height: 6-2

Weight: 195

Notable: First-team all-state by Associated Press as a senior after logging 985 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. … recorded 2,445 receiving yards, 310 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns during three-year varsity career. ... also lettered in basketball and baseball.

Reggie Pearson, S

High School (Hometown): River Rouge (Inkster, Mich.)

Height: 5-11

Weight: 190

Notable: First-team all-state by Associated Press as a junior and senior … helped lead team to Michigan Division 5 state championship game as a sophomore … finished career with 21 interceptions … logged 100 tackles, seven for loss, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles as a senior.

Mason Platter, OLB

High School (Hometown): Menomonie (Menomonie)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 225

Notable: Named first-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior … finalist for John Anderson Award given to state’s top senior linebacker … finished varsity career with 27 sacks and 23 forced fumbles … had 13 sacks and 12 forced fumbles as a senior.

Cormac Sampson, TE

High School (Hometown): Eau Claire Memorial (Eau Claire)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 240

Notable: First-team all-state at tight end and honorable mention all-state at defensive end by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a senior after recording 10 receptions for 156 yards and one touchdown, 56 tackles, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles. … finished varsity career with 95 tackles, 28 for loss, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.

Jack Sanborn, ILB

High School (Hometown): Lake Zurich (Deer Park, Ill.)

Height: 6-2

Weight: 225

Notable: First-team all-state by Illinois High School Football Coaches Association as a junior and senior ... led Lake Zurich to Class 7A state championship game and 13-1 record as a senior … finished three-year varsity career with 296 tackles and 13 sacks … had 120 tackles and three sacks as a senior.

Alexander Smith, CB

High School (Hometown): Culver City (Culver City, Calif.)

Height: 6-1

Weight: 180

Notable: As a two-way player, finished varsity career with 24 total touchdowns and nine interceptions … logged 49 tackles and three interceptions and scored nine touchdowns as a senior ... also lettered in baseball and track and field … four-year honor roll student.

Nakia Watson, RB

High School (Hometown): Westlake (Austin, Texas)

Height: 6-0

Weight: 226

Notable: Named first-team all-state as a senior after rushing for 1,938 yards and 27 touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry … finished three-year varsity career with 3,719 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns on 560 attempts, averaging 6.6 yards per carry … also finished career with 35 receptions for 463 yards and six touchdowns.

Bryson Williams, NT

High School (Hometown): Southeast (Lincoln, Neb.)

Height: 6-2

Weight: 295

Notable: Named first-team all-state as a junior and senior … finished three-year varsity career with 195 total tackles and 7.5 sacks … racked up 77 tackles, three sacks and scored four rushing touchdowns as a senior … as a junior, claimed Class A state championship in shot put (54-5) after setting best of 55-5 1/2 while winning district title.

Chase Wolf, QB

High School (Hometown): Saint Xavier (Loveland, Ohio)

Height: 6-2

Weight: 207

Notable: Part of Ohio Division I state championship team as a junior ... first-team All-Ohio as a senior ... finished senior season with 2,532 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes, along with four rushing scores ... has 14 relatives who have played college sports. ... maintains a 4.0 GPA.

PREFERRED WALK-ONS

Nate Carter, QB

High School (Hometown): Waunakee (Waunakee)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195

Notable: Led Warriors to Wisconsin Division 2 state championship as a senior … finished career completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,823 career passing yards and 38 touchdowns, adding four rushing TDs … completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,240 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.

John Chenal, ILB

High School (Hometown): Grantsburg (Grantsburg)

Height: 6-3

Weight: 235

Notable: First-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and Associated Press as a senior ... finished career with 494 tackles, 24 for loss, 17 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns … offensively, collected 4,578 yards and 65 touchdowns rushing and recorded 1,013 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.

Jack Eschenbach, TE

High School (Hometown): Benet Academy (Downers Grove, Ill.)

Height: 6-6

Weight: 210

Notable: Helped lead Benet Academy to back-to-back state semifinal appearances as a junior and senior … finished career with 76 receptions for 1,197 yards and seven touchdowns … notched 44 receptions for 711 yards and five touchdowns as a senior ... also lettered in basketball.

Mike Gregoire, ATH

High School (Hometown): Notre Dame Academy (Green Bay)

Height: 5-11

Weight: 176

Notable: Honorable mention all-conference as a senior after logging 1,051 rushing yards, 528 receiving yards and 22 total touchdowns … also lettered in hockey ... father, Todd, played football at UW from 1984-87 and holds Badgers’ career records for field goals (65) and field-goal attempts (85).

Andrew Lyons, OT

High School (Hometown): Bradford (Kenosha)

Height: 6-5

Weight: 290

Notable: Finalist for the Joe Thomas Award given to state’s top senior offensive lineman … first-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association and Associated Press as a senior … Southeast Conference Lineman of the Year as a senior … two-year team captain.

Brady Schipper, RB

High School (Hometown): Stoughton (Stoughton)

Height: 6-0

Weight: 190

Notable: Finalist for Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch Award presented to state’s top senior running back … finished career with 3,975 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry … recorded 1,975 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, adding 176 receiving yards and two scores.

Marty Strey, OLB

High School (Hometown): Sun Prairie (Sun Prairie)

Height: 6-3

Weight: 205

Notable: Finalist for John Anderson Award presented to state’s top senior linebacker… first-team all-state by Wisconsin Football Coaches Association as a junior and senior … finished career with 247 tackles, 48 for loss, 20.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, four interceptions, seven pass breakups and two defensive touchdowns.

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Jason Galloway is the Wisconsin Badgers football beat writer for the Wisconsin State Journal.