UW Nabs 24 Football Recruits
Wisconsin added some last-minute sizzle to its 2009 football recruiting class and managed to tweak a conference rival in the process, receiving a letter of intent from blue-chip wide receiver Kraig Appleton on Wednesday.
Appleton, a star wideout from East St. Louis, Ill., signed with the Badgers months after making it known that he was going to attend Illinois -- the latest example of the sometimes-squishy nature of a recruit's non-binding verbal commitment.
Now Appleton becomes the centerpiece of a Badgers recruiting class that includes 21 scholarship players and three preferred walk-ons but hadn't been generating much buzz up until Wednesday.
"Kraig is a very talented football player, had a lot of suitors," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "I'm sure it's very well documented that we were in a pretty intense recruiting battle, and he made an early commitment to another Big Ten school."
Bielema said several Badgers coaches were involved in recruiting Appleton, adding cryptically that Appleton made a "super-quiet, double-secret commit" quite a while ago.
Losing Appleton was seen as a setback for Illinois coach Ron Zook, who has a reputation for being one of the top recruiters in the country. But Zook said he saw it coming.
"Things happen," Zook said. "Guys don't go places for one reason or another. But there's always, there's usually a lot of reasons for things not happening the way that people think they're going to."
Of course, Zook couldn't spend too much time crying foul about Wisconsin recruiting a player who committed to Illinois: He was able to pry Louisville, Ky. running back Justin Green away from a commitment to Ohio State, where he was being recruited as a cornerback.
Overall, Wisconsin's 2009 class was ranked seventh in the Big Ten by rivals.com and scout.com.
Beyond Appleton, the Badgers reeled in four more recruits rated as four-star prospects by rivals: Running back Montee Ball from Wentzville, Mo., defensive end David Gilbert from Coral Springs, Fla., defensive tackle Jordan Kohout from Waupun, Wis. and defensive end Shelby Harris of Mequon, Wis.
Harris' outstanding senior season at Homestead made him a finalist for The Associated Press' 2008 Wisconsin state high school football player of the year award. Badgers recruit Travis Frederick, a lineman for Walworth Big Foot, also was a finalist for the award.
At 6-4 and 315 pounds, Frederick will fit right in with the Badgers' big men. And he isn't the only 300-pound offensive lineman headed Wisconsin's way next season: Ryan Groy, a 6-5, 300-pounder from Middleton, Wis., also joined the Badgers' new class.
The Badgers also getting a quarterback, Jon Budmayr from Woodstock, Ill.
Budmayr sat out almost all of his senior season because of a broken collarbone, but Bielema praised his "incredible calmness" and said he could potentially compete for the starting job during spring football.
The Badgers also signed two defensive players from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.'s Saint Thomas Aquinas high, widely considered the best team in high school football last season: Linebacker Conor O'Neill and defensive back Dezmen Southward.
The Badgers' 2009 class also includes defensive back Josh Peprah, younger brother of Green Bay Packers safety Charlie Peprah.
Bielema said the Badgers' disappointing 7-6 record last season didn't dampen his recruits' enthusiasm.
"We didn't have one kid waffle based off our season, which to me speaks volumes about what kind of people they are," Bielema said. "They really took the attitude, they can come in and help change things. They can come in and help sustain the level of success that we had. That's what gets you excited to see this class come in."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)