ANDERSEN: First of all, thanks for being here. I appreciate it. A lot of thanks goes out. With recruiting classes this big 30 new kids in the program, 25 scholarship kids there's a lot that goes into that. Coaches are a big part of it, obviously, but the wives and the families of the coaches, all the support people at Wisconsin, they come in on weekends, they do whatever needs to be done. That's not just during the late recruiting cycle, that's during the season, that's starting the new season right now with recruits, unofficial visits. So there's a lot of people that give their time, and they're very happy to do it.
So our thanks goes out to all of them for all they do for us and the ability we have to be able to show this wonderful school that we're all very lucky to be part of it at University of Wisconsin.
So if you take the class in general and you break it down, a big number. We look at the positions of need. A specific need was the offensive line. Able to get those young men in here. It's a good number. The goal is to get that to 16 scholarship players. We made good progress in that area, some tremendous young men there.
At the defensive back position, it's exactly the same. We needed to be bringing some athletes there. We weren't so much looking for corners or safeties, we were looking for young men that are highly competitive, that love the game of football, and that can run. And that was the stamp we put on that. I think we made good strides there.
And then also at the wide receiver position. We want to create competition at the wide receiver position, and the young men in our program are working very hard to get themselves on the field. They're making strides. But we need to get that solidified with good numbers there, some young men that are going to expect themselves to come in here and compete at a high level.
Those are the high need areas. From there, obviously, we're able to fill ourselves in with the defensive line, the linebacker spot, the kicker, the quarterback, and so on. But it allowed us to start to get ourselves in the position where we want to be as a staff, and that's fairly equaled out from the freshman class to the senior class, and we made good progress in that area.
The assistant coaches, as we went through this process -- I get to go into the homes one time and I really get a two hour shot in the living rooms or in the homes wherever these young men were living. The kids were very well prepared. The coaches had given a tremendous vision of who we are as a program, as a coaching staff, as a group of individuals, the kids that are on the team.
It was very clear that the parents, the decision makers, mentors, coaches had been well informed. My hat goes off to those assistant coaches in that area.
And then lastly is the importance of the kids that are in this program. We can go sitting in living rooms and offices. We can communicate a vision. We can share our core values, our beliefs, the direction that we believe we're headed as a program.
But at that point that's just all lip service. Until the young man gets in front of our players and he lets the young men know exactly what we are, exactly who we are as a program and that we are going to take care of players first, that it does matter that you have an opportunity to get a world class degree and you're expected to carry yourself at a very high level socially, and the coaches will work hard to change you from a young man to a man.
Our players did a tremendous job with that. They're straight shooters, they're up front, and they're honest. Through this recruiting process, I also appreciate their feedback on the young men that come into our program. They give me honest feedback. And we don't have all the answers when kids walk in here, but this is a special place, and because it's a special place, it's a special fit. And if young men are here for 48 hours and they don't fit, the kids in this program are going to tell me that, and we will move in a different direction at times because I value the opinion of the players.
So we all are grateful to them for their part in this recruiting process also.
So past there, there's a bunch of questions I'm sure you have. But a fine class of young men. Their opportunities to want to move forward and succeed academically is very apparent. Their want to get into a tremendous social environment, like we talk about all the time, is a driving force their them and their families. And obviously to play at the highest level of football, they get that opportunity at the University of Wisconsin.
From there, I'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Gary, a lot of talk about upgrading the speed and athleticism overall. Do you think you made significant strides in that effort?
ANDERSEN: I do. If you look at the wide receiver position first, you've got five young men that what they have in common is is they have very good speed, they have good size. And they have tremendous competitiveness, and their expectations are to come in and compete.
If you look at that position, as we went through the recruiting process, it became very apparent that we were going to get attacked: You know, Wisconsin doesn't throw the ball, Wisconsin this, why would you go there? You're never going to get the ball thrown to you.
But these young men understand the direction and the vision of where the offense wants to go and where we want to take the offense. We definitely upped ourselves in the athleticism there and the competitiveness and their want-to to help that offense changed.
On the back side on the defense, they look and see that Dez (Dezmen Southward) is gone, Tanner's (McEvoy) gone. There is two corners returning that will play a lot of football. But the bottom line, our third corner last year was Dez that came down, and our fourth corner was an outside backer covering people. So those corners know there's open spots for them to come in. And those four or five young men that are in that position to compete as a corner or as a safety is very, very important.
I love the three running backs. 10,000 yards out of three kids in high school. And they're again, as much as they're different, they're still the same. They're highly competitive young men and expect to come in and compete with Melvin (Gordon) and compete with Corey (Clement). That's pretty difficult to do, but they're wanting to get that done.
QUESTION: You mentioned offensive line getting up to 16 scholarship linemen. Where does that stand now?
ANDERSEN: We will sit in the fall at the number of 14. We won't be able to get any better than that this season, the upcoming season. But we are at 14, and we'll look to get hopefully 16 next year.
QUESTION: Gary, you guys went to a lot of different areas this year all throughout the country. I'm curious, was there one area that was maybe tougher for you guys to kind of get into? And just talk about how widespread this recruiting class is in terms of number of different states represented.
ANDERSEN: I would say competitively walking into Florida and dealing with the recruiting cycle there was very competitive. I wouldn't say overall it was difficult because I think that the coaches that were in there did a tremendous job.
But that was kind of a new area for us, and we were going after a high level kid that had many, many opportunities, and the kids on this list had many opportunities, but I'm proud of the way they stuck with us. So that was a highly contested area and an area we'll continue to grow.
Continuing to branch out is important. We're never going to forget where we're built from, and our foundation is built right here, and that will never change in the state of Wisconsin and in the Midwest in general.
But our ability to reach out. We are a program that has the ability to be very well recognized because of the accomplishments of this university for many, many years and the fact that it is a world class education.
So we can get into any living room, we can walk into any school. People understand the Motion W. Not real hard to they're not guessing where you're coming from when you walk in the door, and that gives us the ability to walk in.
So continuing in the Midwest from a relationship standpoint is important.
Moving ourselves to the East Coast, we'll have two coaches that are in there pretty much full time. And moving into the Midwest, a little more compartmentalized, if you will, in the strategic places we need to be. We'll continue down those roads.
Georgia will also open up for us, and we'll continue to have one coach at least in Georgia full time.
QUESTION: Gary, when you were talking about the secondary, listing guys who departed, you said Tanner's gone. I'm assuming you just meant quarterback.
ANDERSEN: Yeah, Tanner's (McEvoy) gone. Yeah, no, Tanner's there. He was running around this morning pretty good, but he was playing quarterback. He is definitely going to be in the quarterback position in spring football.
QUESTION: Going back to what you talked about, when you talk to recruits about the vision for the offense, can you explain more about that vision and how these signees fit into that vision generally.
ANDERSEN: The vision for the offense is we want to run the football, number one, never change. We want to be a heavy play action team that takes shots down the field, and that will never change.
The challenge is to use our personnel groupings the best we can. When I say that, we want to have multiple sets. We want the ability to bring multiple wide receivers on the field. When I say multiple, I mean three and four at times. We would love to have the ability to open up the offense and the run game, to be able to get to the edges of the defense more effectively.
Now, that all starts up front, just like the inside run game does, and we've got to become more athletic in those positions at times to be able to get that done.
But the vision of the offense is quite simple: It's to be an offense that can allow you to not get a beat on us, will not allow you to get a beat on us by down and distance. And really by personnel groups, we're able to throw the ball in all personnel groups. We're able to take long shots down the field. We're able to run the ball in all personnel groups and not really be predictable.
To do that, you've got to be able to throw the ball, and you've got to be able to run the ball consistently.
Lastly, I would say this. Football gets a lot easier when you have some play makers and you don't have to call the perfect play. You don't have to go 12 plays in 70 yards and have it scripted out just exactly how you want it to be first down, second down, third down. It's nice when a kid can catch a big time ball or break a tackle and score a touchdown or you have a back that can go 80 yards at any moment.
We have some of those pieces to the puzzle; we need to continue to build them.
QUESTION: You mentioned the importance of offensive line with guys like Jaden Gault and George Panos coming in. Do you see them competing for playing time right away?
ANDERSEN: Really do. With Jaden (Gault) and Michael (Deiter) coming in at the break for the semester, already being involved in the program, they have a tremendous opportunity to do that. Jaden will be in the mix. Michael may be the starting center with the injuries at this point to Dan (Voltz) and to Dallas (Lewallen). So that is a tremendous opportunity for a young freshman at the center spot. Very challenging, but a great opportunity.
And George (Panos) will come in. Some of those offensive linemen, the first three I mentioned right there, they're physically they'll have an opportunity to come in and compete in the fall.
A couple of those other young men are a year away from building their bodies up. They understand that. Some of them will play tight end. Some of them played defensive end in high school more than they played offensive line, but they're excited to get into the offensive line room and continue that legacy in a very positive direction.
QUESTION: Is Dallas' related to his injury last year, and what's the situation with Dan? When do you expect those guys back?
ANDERSEN: They could possibly be involved in spring ball, but they will not be just to be on the safe side of things. We have a lot of young men that need as many reps as they can possibly get. They'll be full go in all summer conditioning and expect no issues with them walking into fall camp at 100 percent.
The other part of that is for those young men, you want to have Rob (Havenstein) and (Kyle) Costigan get a little break. They're proven players. They've got things they need to work on, but we want to have these young guys get a lot of reps in spring football to develop the depth of that offensive line.
QUESTION: Gary, I have two questions. The first is where does a running threat at quarterback fit into that vision of offense? And the second would be how does (D.J.) Gillins fit that role?
ANDERSEN: If you look at the quarterback position, to answer the second one, second part of that question first, it's going to be very important that we give the quarterbacks an opportunity to compete in spring ball.
When I say that, there's only so many reps to go around. So we have got to construct practices in a way for D.J. (Gillins) to be able to compete and have an opportunity to be able to play and highlight what he brings to the table.
Joel's our starting quarterback. He started all the games last year. It's his spot to lose. So he'll be given that opportunity to obviously compete and get the team around him.
D.J., an athletic quarterback, brings a lot to the table, if he's prepared to be able to do that mentally. That's what has to take place for him to have that opportunity.
Now, they're going to work together. That quarterback room works very well together, and there may be some opportunities to do some things where you can use him in certain situations or certain scenarios. We'll see how that goes with D.J.
I expect him to compete just as well as I expect Bart (Houston) to compete, just as I expect Connor (Senger) to compete. They all want to play. There's a lot of quarterbacks, but there's only so many reps to go around. That is a definite challenge and something we're still in the middle of constructing as we move forward to spring ball.
QUESTION: Several of this year's signees were committed to another school at some point during their recruiting process. How do you manage the balance between respecting that decision and still recruiting them?
ANDERSEN: Well, to me, there's really no decision to respect. Just because a young man says he's committed to a school does not mean that's the school he's going to. So we walk into those situations, and kids don't slam the door. They don't walk in we're not beating down the door to walk into their living rooms. Let me just put it that way. We get in and we're able to communicate with the family, coaches and parents, and go through the process.
Recruiting is aggressive. Recruiting is competitive. It's something that we love. We're just not going to take no for an answer. We don't win them all, but we want to get into the highly contested battles of the best kids out there in the country. And when I say that, I mean the kids that we believe and we deem as being the best kids in the country that, again, fit the University of Wisconsin and the vision that we all have, and that all starts at the top with the vision that Coach Alvarez has for all student athletes here.
Again, a unique fit, yes. A very special fit, absolutely. And we need to share that vision before we're going to walk away from anybody for sure.
QUESTION: With all of the early enrollees that you have coming in here, how much of an edge does that give them to be able to participate in spring ball from your past experiences?
ANDERSEN: It's a tremendous advantage. If you look at Sojourn (Shelton) from a year ago, the ability for Sojourn to understand daily life, the mentoring, the tutoring, the academic scenario, where am I going, how am I going about it, spring football, the winter conditioning, and now he walks back in the fall and he's so far ahead. It's really a big advantage for all the young men that can come in early.
Now, that does not come without challenges. It's not for every young man. It truly is not. They've got to be able to give up some half their senior year is basically what they're turning around and giving up.
But it's a big advantage. It's supported by us as long as it's supported by the family and supported by the young men. And we really listen to them. If they think that their child is ready to be able to do that and the young man believes that he's ready to do that, then we're full steam ahead.
These kids will have a great opportunity. You know, Austin's (Hudson) going to walk back there in the free safety position in the spring, and he will be right in the mix. And would he get that opportunity, that much of an opportunity, in the fall? Probably not.
QUESTION: Coach, it looks like we have six scholarship guys from Wisconsin, maybe one or possibly two getting away. But that said, still how important is it for you to try to lock down the best players in the state and keep them here? Especially when you look at George (Panos) and Beau (Benzschawel) with their family ties to the university too.
ANDERSEN: The family ties are important. That's a soft spot in my heart. I ended up playing where I grew up. And to play at Wisconsin is very important to these young men in the program. Their belief, their care factor, their want-to is a little bit better, especially early on, because they have such great respect, and they understand the tradition and they understand the expectations of the University of Wisconsin.
So to put that Motion W on their helmet and walk out of that tunnel is something that they've been dreaming of for a long, long time.
You recruit the state, the thing you've got to remember is, again, as you go through recruiting, it is a process, it is a fit. Just because you come from Wisconsin doesn't mean you deserve the right to play at Wisconsin. You've got to earn that right through the way you carry yourself on the field, the way you carry yourself off the field, the way you handle your academics throughout your career. And all that stuff matters.
There's great football here. There's great football coaches. There's 400 plus high schools. And as you see, there's people coming in here now. If you've got good players here, it's going to be a highly contested recruiting battle.
Fortunately, with the young men in the state this year, it never was really highly contested. This was where they wanted to be. I think what they had to do was understand who we truly are as coaches. We got that done quickly, and they locked it down. They were a big part of this recruiting class, not just in the state, but throughout the country.
ANDERSEN: I would say he's a he's no search firm, that's for sure. First of all, Thomas' situation. Thomas was coaching the running backs this morning at 6:30. And he was part of that. He definitely since then has made a decision. It was important for Thomas to be able to get in front of his players and communicate with them. It was a very difficult decision, but Thomas has made that decision.
As far as I always believe it's important to talk and communicate and have an open forum with the kids, and when I say that, it's going to be myself educating them on the type of coach that I want to bring in here. Obviously, I look for two things. I look for someone who's going to take care of the kids. That's number one. And, number two, somebody that can recruit. That's what we'll look for.
But when I said that earlier, when I say that, I simply mean that I want Melvin Gordon to be able to communicate with me just like I wanted Melvin Gordon to communicate with me when he was thinking about coming out in the draft. I owe that to Melvin, I owe that to every kid on this football team, to let them lay their head down at night on their pillow and rest assured that I'm doing my best as a head coach to bring a quality person around that can care about them and allow them to move along in life in a quality way.
QUESTION: Gary, you mentioned some recruiting areas earlier. I know you guys looked at some people out on the West Coast and didn't get exactly what you wanted. Does that still factor in, or how do you reevaluate that moving forward, that area?
ANDERSEN: We'll definitely leave Coach Chad (Kauha'aha'a) out on the West Coast, and we were able to get a couple of young men there that I feel good about. We got into some fights there and some big time recruiting battles.
As you look at it, again, our conversations with asking young men to move across the country, but the doors that are getting opened to them are so special, and some kids see that. Last year Leon Jacobs saw that. As soon as we offered Leon, two weeks later, Leon had six or seven different offers, and look what Leon brings to the table. So it will become contagious.
People will understand that, yeah, I am moving across the country, but I still have two months a year that I can get home and I can spend time with my family. And as we move forward and kids start to understand that and distance is a factor, more so for some kids than others. And that was a factor this year at the end. The distance became a factor. I respect that.
Those kids grew up with great families, and they want to be able to be there with them. So at the end, I have to respect that. I don't have to think it necessarily is the right decision, but we'll gain momentum out there. We're never going to sign six kids from the West Coast, but we can get in there and get a couple of young men.
This year we get over to Hawaii and get Micah (Kapoi). Micah is a tremendous football player. He comes from a great situation. Again, he's another perfect example. All of a sudden he gets five or six offers after he commits to Wisconsin to be an offensive lineman. And never fazed him. He'll be with us and excited about it.
It's an area that we need to recruit because, again, because of who we are and what this university stands for. And it gives us the opportunity to get over there and get a couple of kids every year.
QUESTION: Do you know if Ula (has definitely decided to take a church mission and delay his enrollment? How do you handle situations like that? Do you think situations like that would maybe scare off other teams that don't want to wait for guys that want to go off on a mission like that?
ANDERSEN: Well, I'm very used to that. Does it scare off some other people? Yes. They don't understand the process. The plan is right now that that is what Ula (Tolutau) is going to do. That's obviously a family decision. And Ula, in the middle of that, we signed him with either way he goes.
But the plan is right now that he will go on a mission and he'll be back with us. But we'll take him in this program whenever we can get him involved. He's a tremendous young man.
Glad he stuck with us. He's another one that all of a sudden got hit pretty hard late, and his family stuck very strong and understand what they're getting with the opportunity to come to Wisconsin.
QUESTION: Gary, what's your recruiting philosophy? Do you try to get the best players that fit the student athlete mold, or do you try to add depth to where you need depth the most?
ANDERSEN: Well, it's both. We're going to if you break it down, you get in the door, and you start recruiting a guy because of his tape. That's number one. It is football, first thing.
Secondly, we sit back and we try to understand who he is as a person and make sure that we do our best homework to see that he fits here and understands his role as a student athlete socially.
And, lastly, we look at the academic side of things. Academics don't have to be perfect today, if I'm a junior, but they do have to understand that whatever the eligibility center is, whatever their graph is that says this is me, I'm a qualifier for the NCAA, that doesn't mean they're getting into Wisconsin.
So we've got to be able to put an academic plan together for them, if we move forward with them, and give them the opportunity to understand what they have to do to get into Wisconsin. If they hold up their end of the bargain socially, academically, and athletically, we continue to recruit them.
As far as the fits within the scheme of the program, you get 85 scholarships. You want to be spaced evenly as you can be with freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors. So many things affect that injuries, kids move along in life, kids are better players than other players. There's so much many situations that go.
But we're moving in the direction to become evenly spaced. Last year we had 25 seniors. Next year we have 15. You always like that to be around the number of 18, plus or minus a couple, is what you'd like to see as we continue to move forward.
QUESTION: As a walk on, are we to assume that Chasen Andersen will be taking out a loan and play in his own right?
ANDERSEN: Yeah, play in his own way. He said he has some of it in his checking account, but I haven't seen that part of it yet. But his tuition is played. Trust me. Lisa (Powell) took care of that yesterday for me.
He's here. He's doing a good job. He's excited to be around his teammates. He saw it from afar, in the distance for four months throughout the season. He was able to make some great relationships with the kids on the team. He's just excited to get up this morning at 6:30. And he beat me out of the house getting up here to the workout.
He's doing a nice job. I'm proud of him just like I am with every kid on this football team. I say many times: They're all my kids. He's my own flesh and blood, but they're all my kids. I'm proud of all of them.
QUESTION: As a follow up, there's so many recruiting services out there that will rate you 30th in the country, 4th in the Big Ten, whatever it may be. A lot of coaches don't buy into that. How do you analyze what you've just brought in here with your coaches, the kind of job you just did?
ANDERSEN: The good thing is I finally get an opportunity to evaluate those guys, which I'm looking forward to. In the Super Bowl this is not 100 percent factual, but I got it from social media, so I have to assume it's factual, right? That's the rule?
Okay. So 46 of the young men that played in the Super Bowl, when they came out of high school, were two stars or less. So that should give you an idea of how we should put the stock in the rankings.
We evaluate our program. I respect what those guys do. I truly do. I understand that it's a big part of this process, and today is a very special day for the young men that are involved.
But as coaches, we can't put stock in that. We have to evaluate them our way. They'll evaluate them their way. And, again, the uniqueness and the fit for each university is so important. You can't build your football team or our football team on what other people are saying. It's the people that are in our offices and understand the student athletes that we're trying to go out and recruit that make the difference for Wisconsin.
And that's how we go about it. That's how we believe in it. If they rate them high, then I don't know if some deem that as a bonus, then I guess that's a bonus. I deem it as a non-factor, but I do respect what those people do, and it's their job, and it's a fun part of college football for a lot of people.
QUESTION: Trezy is a guy that you brought in, it says as a safety here, but he's also ranked pretty highly as a running back. Could you talk a little bit about how you plan to use him?
ANDERSEN: He could be highly involved in the special teams side of things, a potential returner as we continue to move through the process. He's walking in here as a defensive back. And, again, he is defensive back. Could he potentially be a corner? Could he be a safety? Could he be a nickel? Could he be a dime? Yes, he could be all of those things.
As we see how these new receivers walk into the mix, as we see how our receivers are in the program, who are working unbelievably hard to be great at the wide receiver position, we'll see where it sits for Serge at the end, but he is definitely walking in here as a defensive back, and he understands that.
We recruited him no different. We don't pull punches and pretend to recruit a kid for one position and then move him to the next position. We will move kids in positions, but we won't recruit him and we'll walk in here and recruit him as a wide receiver and the first day they're here they're going to play corner. We'll be open minded and truthful with them. But if we see it later, then we'll have to move him as we go through the process.
QUESTION: Because you had to devote so many scholarships to both lines and wide receiver, did some areas fall a little bit short, maybe like linebacker? Is that an area where walk ons could make a difference?
ANDERSEN: That's a great example. The situation with the linebackers, when we started this class, is we really wanted to be able to sign two to three inside linebackers. I think we helped ourselves in the walk on spot there, the inside linebacker, moving Joe Schobert to inside linebacker put us in a position at that point to take one, and that's exactly what we did.
We felt very good about the youth and the older kids in the program at the outside linebacker position. So those spots ended up getting eaten up by another offensive lineman or potentially another defensive back.
QUESTION: Gary, what was recruiting like in the Big Ten after your first full year on the job? The competitiveness, the time commitment compared to what you were used to?
ANDERSEN: I would say this: The speed of it is so much faster. It starts right now for next year. You've got to get yourself in the mix. I go back to it time and time again, but recruiting is a relationship based situation for the kids and for the coaches, and that will never change.
It is highly competitive in the Big Ten. But it's respectful in the Big Ten, I would say that. The teams we run across in the Big Ten have tremendous respect for each other, just as you can see that in the play on the field. It's not a situation where there's bantering back and forth and things being said about schools. That's not always true out there in the recruiting process.
So I continue to gain respect for this league in that area as I do in many other areas.
QUESTION: Gary, can you quantify just how important Thomas Hammock was to this process, not only this class, but what he's done the last few years here?
ANDERSEN: Thomas what Thomas has done is on the football field, you all know. He's had some very talented players, and he's made them very good football players. He's been a big part of making them good football players.
He's a tremendous communicator. He's been a big part of the offense. I appreciate the way Thomas has dealt with the transition. I appreciate the fact that Thomas Hammock wanted to be at Wisconsin when we came here and really didn't bat an eye.
I still remember when Coach (Alvarez) walked into my office the first day we were here, and he said, you know, you've got a running back coach that really wants to be here in the worst way. We should think about keeping him if it's the right fit.
It obviously was the right fit. That didn't take any time for me to be able to see that.
So he's meant a lot to Wisconsin. And let me just say this: Wisconsin means a lot to Thomas Hammock, and it always will. As he moves forward this is something that Thomas has wanted for a long time. Some people want to coach professional football. It's been a driving force of his for quite a few years, and it's where he sees the best spot for him and his family, which I have the utmost respect for, the decision that he has to make.
It all comes with a little bit of difficulty, but we'll move on. We'll be just fine. And he'll move on, and he'll be just fine. I think I have a good friend in Thomas Hammock and a guy that I can trust, and I believe many coaches on our staff feel the exact same way. He's grateful of Wisconsin for the opportunity.
QUESTION: Gary, I know you have a whole bunch of new guys coming in today, but you also have some guys leaving. It was reported that there's going to be some guys stepping away from the program due to injury. Can you update any on that at all?
ANDERSEN: We'll come out with that. I think other than just single out those kids we had a couple young men that are in medical situations that it's just not best for them to continue and play football.
I sound like a broken record, but the ability that those kids have to be in this program and still continue their education goes right back to what Wisconsin is all about. It's about the kids' academics, it's about the kids' lives and continuing to help them grow and develop more so than it is getting them on the football field.
Those are tough decisions for families, tough decisions for coaches. But when it becomes apparent that football is not the right thing for you to be doing from a physical standpoint, and that comes back from the trainers, comes back from the doctors, we have full support for that from our football staff, and obviously the athletic department, Coach Alvarez and his people have full support to allow those kids to continue on it and get their education.