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MADISON — Maybe it's true most of the heavy lifting for Wisconsin's football recruiting class was done by the previous coaching staff. After all, 13 full-scholarship members for the Class of 2013 pledged their allegiance to the Badgers before Bret Bielema left for Arkansas.
Still, head coach Gary Andersen and his new staff accomplished plenty in the seven weeks between his hiring and National Signing Day, which arrived on Wednesday with Scout.com's 36th-ranked recruiting class. In addition to retaining previously committed players, they managed to sign four potential impact players whose names were nowhere on Wisconsin's radar under the prior regime.
Those players — linebacker Leon Jacobs, quarterback Tanner McEvoy, defensive back Donnell Vercher and defensive back Jakarrie Washington — represent the differences this Badgers coaching staff can provide in recruiting ties and the type of player it pursues.
McEvoy and Vercher, for example, both come from the junior college ranks. McEvoy earned all-conference honors while playing one season at Arizona Western College, and Vercher earned All-America honors at Fresno City College in California. He finished his sophomore season with 23 tackles and eight interceptions.
Andersen is more partial to recruiting junior college players than Bielema ever was. Andersen himself went the junior college route as a player and became a first-team junior college All-American at Ricks College in 1984.
"There's a chip on their shoulder because they didn't receive that opportunity for whatever reason presented itself at some point in their lives to not be at a Division I program," Andersen said. "There's a lot of those scenarios. Well, I like that chip on their shoulders. And if you look back at the history of the University of Wisconsin, that's how this program was built."
While Andersen said he won't pursue every junior college player, he will target those who could fill a specific need at Wisconsin.
"We all have a past on this staff as far as recruiting junior college players," he said. "We'll do our best to pick the right ones. It's never an exact science in high school or junior college. If we see a young man we believe can help us play, we'll definitely look into that and take him."
Vercher, in particular, will have ample opportunity to contribute immediately with the loss of three seniors in the secondary, including safety Shelton Johnson. Vercher could be paired up with senior-to-be Dezman Southward at the back of Wisconsin's defense.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda pushed to nab Vercher, while secondaries coach Bill Busch used his Arizona connections to target McEvoy. Both coaches have West Coast ties and spent time with Andersen at Utah State before arriving at Wisconsin.
Busch also recruited Washington (Everett, Mass.), who accepted his scholarship offer on the spot two weeks ago. Washington, a three-star recruit rated as the No. 56 cornerback by Scout.com, was a two-time all-state selection. As a senior, he caught 33 passes for 439 yards and nine touchdowns, ran for 697 yards on 75 carries with 15 touchdowns and tallied two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, returning one fumble for a touchdown.
Jacobs, meanwhile, originally committed to Fresno State but changed his mind and began looking for a school with a better reputation for academics, according to Aranda. Jacobs has played only two years of football and is considered a natural but raw player. Jacobs won a national slam-dunk contest as a high school sophomore.
"He is a crazy athletic player," Aranda said. "I've seen him play basketball a couple times. He's dunking over guys, giving me thumbs up and things. He's a man among boys. Athletically, he's everything you look for."
Aranda said one of the major points of emphasis was finding players on defense who possess speed in addition to toughness. Considering the circumstances, Andersen couldn't have been more pleased with the Badgers' signing day haul.
"I think the coaches all did a tremendous job," Andersen said. "It was a team effort. The areas were scattered. It's very unconventional recruiting when you take over a job in the timeframe that we did to solidify a class."
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