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Why Wisconsin Football Will Survive Misses on 2024 In-State Recruits



Wisconsin football head coach Luke Fickell
Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second half of the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Why Wisconsin Football Will Survive Misses on 2024 In-State Recruits

Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin football has traditionally done an excellent job of keeping the recruiting “wall” around the state in terms of turning in-state kids into Badgers.

It helps that they’re the only FBS school in the state, but I digress.

The program has signed the No. 1 player in Wisconsin every season dating back to 2017 — every season until now, that is. It’s also worth mentioning that the Badgers secured seven of the 10 four-star recruits during that stretch, according to the 247Sports composite.

That said, recent events regarding in-state recruiting in the 2024 cycle have people in an uproar and upset with Luke Fickell for all the wrong reasons.

Let’s get you up to speed if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Wisconsin’s Top In-State Recruits in 2024 Recruiting Class 

In Wisconsin, 247Sports has 16 players rated as three-star prospects or better who have received division one offers. Of that group, roughly 10 of them are high-major talents. 

As it stands, Wisconsin football has commitments from three players from the 2024 in-state class: Rob Booker (No. 5), Derek Jensen (No. 6), and Landon Gauthier (No. 10). They’re also in deep with four-star, top 200 prospect Nathan Roy, who plays offensive tackle for Mukwonago. 

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows (we’ll get to context in a moment). 

From a pure in-state recruiting standpoint, there’s no denying that it stung when a talented four-star kid like Donovan Harbour left for another Big Ten school like Penn State. 

And on the surface, it stings a little more when the No. 2 player, a dynamic running back, Corey Smith, appears to be headed there to join Harbour and new Nittany Lion commit Garrett Sexton, who Wisconsin didn’t offer until a week ago (if UW had legitimate interest they botched this recruitment, IMO).

Even Sam Pilof, Wisconsin’s No. 4 in-state player, committed to Rutgers, but we won’t even discuss the logistics of why that might have happened.

While this news may be disappointing for fans, it’s important to remember that the Badgers survived similar situations in the past and are well-positioned to continue their success on the field moving forward.

The Wisconsin Football Recruiting Process Deserves Some Context…

I can’t sit here and tell you that the Wisconsin football program would have landed all the aforementioned players if they had been more involved in their recruitment.

However, it’s worth mentioning that multiple outlets reported Luke Fickell and his staff, at least in the case of Harbour and Smith, invited them to Madison for a closer look during their junior day in January and decided after that to go a different direction.

It’s not like coach Fickell and his staff lost these players in some grind-it-out recruitment battle. Instead, they came in, did their own evaluations, and decided which kids they intended to prioritize on their board.

It’s not like these top talents took one look at what the Badgers new regime had to offer and headed for the hills. These blue-chip types of prospects are getting offers from other nationally recognized brands, and unless they had their heart set on wearing cardinal and white, it’s not unusual for them to see if the grass is greener.

Why Wisconsin Football Will Survive Without These In-State Recruits

One of the main reasons why it’s not the end of the world for the Badgers to miss out on some top 2024 in-state talents is that this staff has a proven track record of recruiting well outside Wisconsin.

“Within a 300-mile radius, that will be the core of what we do here,” Fickell said in his introductory press conference.

Over the years, Luke Fickell has built a reputation as a program builder that can identify and develop talent from all over the country, including different parts of the Midwest. He’s also assembled an impressive coaching staff that has already opened doors in recruitments UW typically would never have a prayer in–look no further than the quarterback room.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Badgers have a strong culture and a nationally recognized brand that’s growing and attracting top talent.

Wisconsin football is known for its blue-collar work ethic and emphasis on team success over individual accolades. Even if UW misses out on some of the top in-state prospects, the Badgers will still be able to attract talented players who buy into this culture.

Final Thoughts 

All I ask is that fans understand the sky isn’t falling. Luke Fickell and his coaching staff came in, evaluated the 2024 in-state class, and decided where they fell on their respective boards.

That’s not to say the new regime will dismiss in-state prospects moving forward because we all know that isn’t true. But given Fickell’s track record of success, which includes a College Football Playoff appearance, he and his staff have earned the benefit of the doubt.

At Cincinnati, a school I’d argue has less talent at its disposal than Wisconsin; Fickell had a player selected in the NFL draft every season since taking over the program in 2017. Last April, the Bearcats had nine players selected in the 2022 NFL draft, trailing only LSU and Georgia. He has a decent eye for talent.

Also, consider how good of a job they’ve done constructing the 2024 recruiting class, which currently ranks No. 21 in the country.

No matter what you do, sometimes a kid just doesn’t want to play for the Wisconsin football program. And sometimes, the coaching staff will prefer players outside of the state more, have better relationships, or deem them a better fit.

It’s okay–no need to overreact–the Badgers will be just fine.

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Dillon Graff is a Substack newsletter best-selling author, publisher of AllBadgers, and the owner of, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today's BadgersWire, Athlon Sports, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and FanSided.