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Defensive Line Recruiting: The Achilles Heel of the Wisconsin Football Program

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Wisconsin Football defensive line coach Greg Scruggs
Apr 11, 2023; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin defensive line coach Greg Scruggs is shown during practice Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Madison, Wis. — The Wisconsin football program has a long-standing tradition of excellence, particularly because of its ground-and-pound style of play and stingy defensive units. 

However, one area that has consistently hindered their ability to make a serious push for the College Football Playoffs since its inception in 2014 is defensive line recruiting. 

Despite their success in developing unheralded talents, such as Beau Allen, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Matt Henningsen, and Keeanu Benton, the lack of elite defensive linemen has limited the Badgers’ potential and prevented them from vaulting into playoff contention. 

This article will explore why defensive line recruiting has become the Achilles heel of the Wisconsin Badgers football program.

The Importance of a Dominant Defensive Line

A dominant defensive line is often the backbone of any elite football team. It disrupts opposing offenses, creates pressure on the quarterback, which makes life easier on defensive backs, and allows the big nasties free up pass-rushing lanes to stop the run effectively. 

A strong defensive line sets the tone for the entire defense, making it easier for linebackers and defensive backs to excel. If you have a star defensive lineman — it’s easy to see the impact. Look no further than the team Wisconsin was when Keeanu Benton was on the field compared to when he was off — night and day difference. 

To field a truly elite defense (one that can keep the “blue bloods” in check), you have to have more than one d-lineman capable of being a game-wrecker. 

Wisconsin Football Struggles with Recruiting Elite Prospects

While Wisconsin football has traditionally excelled in recruiting and developing offensive linemen and linebackers, the same cannot be said for defensive linemen. 

UW has faced challenges in attracting highly touted recruits who can make an immediate impact to even consider visiting campus — let alone committing. Top defensive line prospects often gravitate towards programs that offer greater exposure, national championships, or a history of sending players to the NFL. 

Unfortunately, the Badgers have netted just two four-star defensive line prospects since 2016: Garrett Rand and Isaac Hamm (who never played for UW). Stars aren’t everything, but they matter more than fans care to admit. 

The schools Wisconsin football is chasing, such as Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, and Ohio State, all had two or more four-star defensive line commits in last year’s recruiting class alone. It’s because d-line recruiting (and CBs, for that matter) are the cheat code that separates the good programs from the elite. 

The Badgers’ lack of recent playoff appearances and limited success on the national stage has made it difficult for them to compete with powerhouse programs for top-tier defensive line talent. 

Their inability to play with the big boys (right now) makes it all the more important that Wisconsin’s coaching staff can identify and develop high school recruits because impact defensive linemen will be unicorns in the transfer portal. 

Final Thoughts on Wisconsin Football Defensive Line Recruiting

The absence of impact players along the Wisconsin football defensive line has hindered their ability to unseat the top programs in the Big Ten. 

While the Badgers have been able to field solid defensive line groupings, they have struggled to consistently generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks when facing a high-powered offense like Ohio State. This reality has put additional pressure on the secondary and linebackers to play a bend, don’t-break brand of football that’s not sustainable. 

To break the cycle and elevate the Wisconsin football program into playoff contention, the Badgers must find a way to break through in defensive line recruiting (I fully acknowledge how hard this is). 

UW will reinvent itself on defense under Mike Tressel, who loves to use his d-lineman as pass-rushers. Hopefully, the change in scheme (God, I miss Jim Leonhard) and the new coaching staff will show a propensity over time for developing players for the NFL — that’ll be the key. 

Let’s hope Greg Scruggs and company are up to the task. 


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Five-Star Specialist Erik Schmidt Talks Recent Wisconsin Football Visit

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Wisconsin Badgers Football left tackle Joe Thomas Hall of Fame
Photo: Courtesy of AMF Photos

The Wisconsin football program recently hosted several 2025 prospects during the Badgers win over Georgia Southern.

One of those prospects was Erik Schmidt, a touted kicker/punter out of Milwaukee. 

“I had a really good time,” Schmidt told BadgerNotes. “The atmosphere in Madison was great, and everybody was welcoming.”

Erik Schmidt Recaps Recent Wisconsin Football Visit

Per Kohl’s Kicking, Schmidt is a five-star specialist. The Marquette University High School standout is the No. 4 ranked kicker in the nation and the No. 1 punter. 

Wisconsin was the first school to extend an offer to Schmidt and remains his sole offer. However, he has been garnering some interest from other programs.

“Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State,” Schmidt said when asked what schools he’s hearing from at the moment. 

UW coaches Spencer Rymiszewski and Matt Mitchell have been Schmidt’s main points of contact following his scholarship offer. During his visit, he was able to catch up with the coaches and build relationships. 

“I’d say I have a close relationship with the staff. I talk to them multiple times a week.” Schmidt said. “We talked about how my football season is going.” 

It’s not just coaches who have been talking with Schmidt, however. Nathanial Vakos, the Wisconsin football program’s current placekicker, took some time to chat with Schmidt during his visit as well.

“I was able to talk with (Vakos) as well,” Schmidt told BadgerNotes. “We were just catching up because we were at a camp together this past summer.”

Wisconsin is reportedly near the top of Schmidt’s list, but he’s not in any rush to make a decision. He’s still looking to make his rounds and check out some other programs that have shown interest. 

“I’m going to visit Notre Dame and Michigan,” Schmidt said. “I’ll be back in Madison for the Ohio State game.”

That’s one of several standout prospects who will be in attendance for Wisconsin’s big primetime game against the Buckeyes. 

Luke Fickell and company are looking to have a scholarship kicker/punter in the 2025 class. If they are able to reel in one of the nation’s top kickers/punters, that will be a big win for the special teams group.

As it stands, Wisconsin football holds two commitments in the 2025 cycle from Remington Moss and Landyn Locke.


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Wisconsin Football: Badgers Expected to Land 2025 In-State Recruit

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Wisconsin Badgers football coaches Luke Fickell and Mike Tressel
Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell (left) greets Wisconsin Badgers defensive Coordinator Mike Tressel after Fickell spoke to the media during Wisconsin Badgers football media day at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.

Luke Fickell and the Wisconsin Badgers Football program struggled to recruit America’s Dairyland in their first full cycle since taking over. That said, they’re hoping to change their fortunes in a deep group of 2025 in-state prospects.

Three-star linebacker Cooper Catalano from Germantown, Wisconsin, is arguably the top linebacker target on their board, and they have hosted him on several unofficial visits, most recently during the Badgers home game vs. Georgia Southern.

According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Catalano is ranked as the No. 470 player in the nation, the No. 43 linebacker, and the No. 6 player in Wisconsin. He currently holds offers from UW, Illinois, Iowa State, Kansas, Michigan State, and Minnesota.

His fit with Wisconsin football seems obvious, and after his latest trip to Madison, it appears that the recruiting insiders have a gut feeling about where he’ll call home.

Wisconsin Football is Trending for the In-State Linebacker 

Obviously, it’s still early in Cooper Catalano’s recruitment, but all signs point to the Wisconsin Badgers Football team keeping him home.

Badgers recruiting insiders Evan Flood of 247Sports and Jon McNamara of Rivals are in lockstep and have placed predictions for the 6-foot 200-pound linebacker to commit to Wisconsin.

As it stands, Wisconsin football has verbal commitments from quarterback Landyn Locke and defensive back Remington Moss, so it would be even sweeter to add an in-state product into the mix this early.

The Badgers coaching staff has injected some life into the program on the recruiting trail, and plenty of players want a seat at the table before the spots fill up.



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In-State EDGE Nicholas McCullough Recaps Wisconsin Football Visit

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Wisconsin Badgers Football helmet
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Frey-AMF Photos. Follow @amfphotos2020 on Instagram to see more.

Fresh off of a win over top-ranked Mukwonago, Muskego High School standout Nicholas McCullough made a stop at Camp Randall to take in the Wisconsin Badgers football program’s victory over Georgia Southern, where the

“Great visit overall,” McCullough told BadgerNotes. “The atmosphere was amazing per usual. It was great to see coach Scruggs in action.”

Nicholas McCullough Recaps Recent Wisconsin Football Visit

During his visit, McCullough spent some time building his relationships with the coaching staff. He’s been in touch with a pair of UW coaches thus far as they continue to monitor the Muskego native.

“I have a good relationship with the staff. Coach Spalding is an awesome dude, and it’s always good to see him. Coach Scruggs is an amazing coach, and we keep in touch whenever we can.” McCullough explained. “I saw them pregame and just talked about how my season is going so far.”

The Muskego standout has had an impressive season thus far. The undefeated Warriors just took down Mukwonago and have wins over other programs such as Verona, Oak Creek, and Waukesha West. 

His film speaks for itself, as he’s put together quite a highlight reel through five games. 

Not only is McCullough a standout on the field, but he’s an excellent student. According to his Twitter bio, McCullough currently holds a 4.0 GPA. Some schools are taking notice of his excellent academics, including some Ivy League universities.

“Duke and Ivy League (schools) such as Princeton, Penn, Columbia, and Dartmouth,” McCullough said when asked what other schools he’s hearing from. 

McCullough hasn’t picked up an offer from the Badgers yet, but he is planning on another Wisconsin football visit, among some other stops.

“I’m currently working out the details for Ivy League visits. I do plan on coming back to Madison,” McCullough explained.

McCullough has a long way to go in his recruitment, but he was impressed by Wisconsin. At the end of our talk, the junior linebacker discussed what the most important thing will be when he’s choosing a school. 

“Definitely the level of education. Wisconsin does a great job of having the best of both worlds. Great football team and a great education.”

As it stands, the Wisconsin football program holds two commitments in the 2025 class from Remington Moss and Landyn Locke


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here. Also, like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers football news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Jake Maier on Twitter @JakeJMaier.

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