WAUNAKEE — Growing up in Wisconsin, Waunakee senior quarterback Nate Carter had certain fond feelings for the University of Wisconsin and its football program.
Several NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and Division II schools plus Davidson College showed interest, but the 6-foot-6, 200-pound Carter held out hope the Badgers would come calling. He knew they had been monitoring his high school progress through three years on varsity and that he was on their radar after attending a UW camp before senior year and while playing at a high level for the WIAA Division 2 state champion Warriors this fall.
When an offer to be a preferred walk-on at UW arrived in October, Carter’s wait was over. On Wednesday he made the decision official when he signed a National Letter of Intent during the first day of the new early signing period in college football.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said at a signing ceremony for Carter and teammate L.O. Johnson at the high school’s Performing Arts Center. “Just growing up in this area, always being a Badgers fan, to get that opportunity to sign with the hometown school and really realize that dream, it is pretty special.”
Carter — a WFCA academic All-State selection — is well-aware of the school’s strong walk-on program, mentioning former UW quarterback Joel Stave as an example. “Just seeing that past success of other walk-ons is pretty encouraging to me,” said Carter, recruited as a quarterback.
Entering the Division 2 title game, Carter had completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 153 yards per game, throwing 25 touchdowns. “He was pretty darn special,” Waunakee coach Pat Rice said. “He has the frame. He’s a 6-6 kid. He has a big arm and he’s very, very intelligent.”
In that game, Carter broke the fifth metacarpal bone in the little finger of his right hand — his throwing hand — during the Warriors’ first series of their 14-13 victory over Brookfield Central. He struck his hand on a helmet but, despite pain, played the entire game. It wasn’t until the postgame celebration when shaking hands that he felt increased pain and saw his swollen hand.
He struggled through an 8-for-21 passing day — which he described as one of the worst games of his prep career. But the Warriors’ comeback from a 13-0 deficit eased the pain. “It was awesome,” Carter said. “To get back to that point senior year was the perfect ending.”
Carter is scheduled to have the pins removed from his hand in a week and should begin playing basketball in January. He joined Stoughton senior running back Brady Schipper and Sun Prairie senior outside linebacker Marty Strey as area players who committed to UW as preferred walk-ons.
Other athletes making their decisions official included Watertown senior receiver Ryan Hayden (U.S. Air Force Academy) and Waunakee’s Johnson, a running back and track and field standout who signed with New Mexico.
“This year has probably been the best year of my life,” said Johnson, whose father, Lawrence, played cornerback for UW and in the NFL. “I feel like every check mark we set up as a family and as a team has been checked — with track, football and now signing day. It’s truly a blessing to be in the position I am.”
Johnson, who won the 100-meter dash at the WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet in June, visited New Mexico this past weekend and was impressed by the coaching staff (notably head coach Bob Davie and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Kevin Cosgrove, a former UW assistant and defensive coordinator); the track program’s success; and the facilities and residence halls.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Johnson said about New Mexico, the eighth of his 10 offers.
He didn’t like that the early period shortened the time to take visits, particularly for players on prep teams that had long playoff runs, but he felt at home at New Mexico, scheduled to play UW in Madison next season.
“Hopefully, I will be playing in that game,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited for that opportunity.”
Rice said eight to 10 of Waunakee’s seniors likely will play football or other sports in college, and some football decisions could come in the February signing period. Receiver Riley Zuhde has committed to NCAA Division II Augustana in South Dakota. Running back Javian Dayne has offers from Boston College and Minnesota State-Mankato, and Illinois and Northern Illinois also have been in the mix, Rice said.