MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen's first recruiting class was highlighted by a pair of defensive ends from suburban Milwaukee.
Andersen's goal is to maintain the same kind of power-running and pass-rushing success the Badgers have been built around for the last two decades, and keeping the big kids in Wisconsin is a good place to start.
Alec James of Brookfield East and Chikwe Obasih from Brookfield Central were among six in-state players who signed national letters of intent with the Badgers on Wednesday, about two months after coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. Andersen and his staff were able to retain most of the prospects who initially committed before Bielema's departure.
"It's great to have Alec and Chikwe in that spot to be able to build two freshmen defensive ends," Andersen said at a news conference. He added: "Both of them can drop out in coverage, and they're both very, very smart young men, so they can handle the mental part of the game, and they're going to blossom and grow physically as they get into the conditioning program as we move forward."
Another Wisconsinite who signed with the home team was tight end T.J. Watt from Pewaukee, a Milwaukee suburb. Yes, he's from that Watt family.
"T.J. tells me he wants to be the best Watt boy," Andersen said. "If that's the case, we're in a pretty good spot."
Andersen said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Watt might grow into a defensive end like his older brother, J.J. Watt, the former Badgers star who was named last week the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"My defensive mind looks over and says, boy, that's a defensive end. And the tight end guy is looking and saying he's a tight end," Andersen said. "We'll see how he develops."
Reviews of the class were mixed. Rivals.com ranked Wisconsin next-to-last in the Big Ten and 56th in the nation. Scout.com had the Badgers fourth in the conference and 37th among FBS schools. There's little argument, though, that running back Corey Clement was a good get.
Clement is from Glassboro, N.J., just a few minutes from where former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne grew up. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Clement rushed for 2,323 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock, one of the holdovers from Bielema's staff, played a key part in securing Clement's commitment. Clement will help fill the void created by the departure of Montee Ball.
"In the first quarter he's good. In the fourth quarter he has the ability to kind of really take over," Andersen said. "That's because of his toughness. ... That kid did not waver, and he had a lot of people coming and banging down his door."
The same went for quarterback Tanner McEvoy, a Hillsdale, N.J., native who played last season at Arizona Western junior college. He picked the Badgers over Florida, Oregon and West Virginia. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound McEvoy spent his freshman year at South Carolina.
McEvoy will face a crowded competition for the job. Danny O'Brien, Curt Phillips and Joel Stave each started multiple games last year. Jon Budmayr and Bart Houston are also on the roster.
"We just want to create competition. He brings an added dimension to the quarterback position that with his ability to be able to run that is a positive," Andersen said. "Does that mean he's a starting quarterback? No. The best guy will be whoever performs and leads the team the best way."