December 30, 2010

Recruiting philosophy pays dividends

MADISON - Having been around the program for four seasons, junior safety Aaron Henry sees a developing trend. And it's one that has set up the Wisconsin football team for success in 2010, and one that has similar potential down the road.

"I think Wisconsin does a tremendous job in recruiting quality guys," Henry said. "They just don't want the athlete. They want guys who can solidify the program with themselves. Most of the time when they go into the homes - yes, they are top-notch athletes - but if you're a top-notch athlete and a horrible academic or you're horrible off the field and you stay in trouble, Wisconsin is probably not the best place for you.

"A lot of times coaches do give those guy's a chance."

By giving guys like J.J. Watt (a transfer out of Central Michigan), Ricky Wagner (a walk-on tight end turned offensive lineman) and Scott Tolzien (an unheralded quarterback recruit) an opportunity, UW capitalized on a number of veteran leaders that helped the Badgers back into the Rose Bowl, a place the program hadn't been since the 1999 season.

Out of high school none of those players were top-notch recruits. Guys like Chris Borland or James White, UW's back-to-back Big Ten freshmen of the year, weren't necessarily lauded from some of the big name programs.

In a general sense, they are the prototypical Wisconsin players. Bret Bielema and his staff just needed them to sign on and buy into the UW program.

As the Badgers move into their bowl game against TCU, and subsequent spring practice following it, those are the types of players that can become leaders as their careers continue to unfold.

"They're learning from a great group of seniors," junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. "Our seniors have done a great job of leading our team so the younger guys understand what it's like to lead a football team and what it takes. There are a lot of guys that are working extremely hard in the weight room and extremely hard down there on the scout team who are going to come through here.

"They're going to be very successful and they're going to be a great team."

Though some of the younger players on the squad have had instant success (i.e. James White), the foundation for that success isn't built on what happens during a particular game on a random Saturday.

It's something the coaching staff instills while on the recruiting trail. It's something that generates momentum all the way from a living room meeting during the recruiting process and lasts throughout a players' individual career.

Bad apples, or guys that aren't necessarily deemed as fits during official visits, just might not be worth the risk.

"Most of the guys that come here the coaches have already gotten into their houses and talked to their parents and got a feel for them," senior Culmer St. Jean said. "They're really cool and easy going. All of the guys, especially the guys I've seen this year, that they've been recruiting embrace the moment. They take it all in because that's a life decision.

"You're committing four to five years of your life to one place. At the end, you get rewarded with a degree and an opportunity to play in the Big Ten."

There's an old axiom that examines how you need not be the biggest, fastest or strongest athlete on a field to have success. Instead, you need to be smart, well rounded and hard working. That's all it takes.

The hare doesn't always beat the tortoise. And that's a recipe the Badgers have followed during Barry Alvarez's tenure as head coach and continued throughout Bielema's first five years in the program.

"The longer I've been around I think that really is a key," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "There is something to be said about the strides you can make within five years if you've got a worker versus someone that has natural talent but doesn't want to work.

"In five years you see one pass up the others and it's a big thing."

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