Receiving bounty

Lance Kendricks

Up to seven signees could play wide receiver for the Badgers, filling a position of obvious need

MADISON—Last season, six players on the University of Wisconsin football team combined for 94.5 percent of the team's receptions, 96 percent of its receiving yards and all but one of its touchdown catches. And all six—receivers Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr and Brandon White, tight ends Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask and tailback Brian Calhoun—have to be replaced in 2006.

Throw into the equation tailback Booker Stanley, who is not expected to return to the team due to off-the-field concerns, and the Badgers return a whopping four receptions for 49 yards and one touchdown, from a corps of skill position players that combined for 200 catches, 2,969 yards and 22 scores in 2005.

Obviously, with that in mind, wide receiver had to be a focus of the signing day class new head coach Bret Bielema announced Wednesday. And so it was. Five of the 23 prospects the Badgers formally introduced were listed as wide receivers, and two more "athletes" could play the position.

"Just numbers-wise, if we didn't get anybody we had five scholarship wide receivers. So we needed to take at least four," wide receivers coach Henry Mason said.

Needless to say, Bielema and Mason devoted considerable energies to filling the gaping hole that is Wisconsin's receiving corps

"I knew all along that I had the intentions of keeping Coach Mason so I knew he would keep abreast of the wide receiver position because I thought that was big," Bielema said.

Perhaps it is a little too soon to call, but from their achievements at the prep level, it appears that Mason and Bielema have put together a group of players that will be capable of filling the gaps that the graduated seniors left behind.

"The bottom line is I think we got some pretty good players," Mason said. "We've got to get them in here and coach them up. I like the athleticism in this class."

Wednesday, Mason discussed his wide receiver class of 2006, the biggest part of Bielema's first recruiting class, including:

The talk of the class, Milwaukee-native Lance Kendricks, the 12th-ranked wide receiver in the country according to Scout.com.

"[He's] a guy that had many different opportunities throughout the country," Bielema said. "He's a big athlete that can run. [He's] somebody we think can come in and add a presence there early on. He's a good competitor and somebody we expect to blossom in the program once he gets here."

Kendricks has the speed and athleticism—he also ran track at King High School and is a 4.4 40-yard dash guy who is arguably the best prep triple jumper in the country—and compiled 102 catches and nearly 2,000 yards in his career.

Mason said another bright spot is how he uses his 6-foot-4, 213-pound frame.

"He's a taller guy that doesn't have tall-guy problems," Mason said. "Most tall guys have a real tough time turning and so forth. He doesn't have those issues."

The receivers coach has already built a relationship with the in-state recruit, having met several times and coached him at UW football camps.

"I had him in camp the last couple years and I was able to coach him for three days at a time and he responded very well," Mason said. "I thought we built a relationship that way where he kind of trusted me and I trusted him."

Daven Jones is Mason's latest recruit out of the state of Ohio, hailing from Cleveland's Glenville High School. He was listed as the No. 100 receiver in the country by Scout.com.

"He's a guy we've been watching the last couple years. I knew about Daven for awhile and he is the guy that maybe has the total package," Mason said. "He's got the size, real good hands, good speed, he's got all those things. And he has a true passion for the game."

The success of former Badgers and Ohio-natives Chris Chambers and Lee Evans at the pro level definitely did not hurt UW's case with Jones.

"All he kept talking about was ‘I want to be like Chris Chambers and Lee Evans,'" Mason said. "Those guys put on a camp in the summer time and they called me right away."

Bielema also said that Jones could be in the running as a return man, noting that the Badgers lost their top two returners in Williams and Calhoun and that players will need to compete for that job this spring.

Xavier Harris was an honorable-mention all-state selection in his senior year at Fort Lauderdale High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. after catching 41 passes for 864 yards and seven touchdowns.

"Great catch guy, great hands," Mason said. "[He's] just a really neat kid. Once you get to know him, you understand that he's a pretty sharp kid. I think that he is a typical Florida receiver. He can run routes and catch a football."

Harris is another multi-sport athlete who also earned two letters apiece in basketball and track.

Isaac Anderson is a 5-11, 170-pound receiver from Minneapolis. A two-time all-state athlete, he had 35 catches for 780 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior year. He holds a Minnesota state record in the 100-meter dash.

"He's got great hands, good athletic ability," Bielema said. "[He's] a guy we expect to come in, or have an opportunity to come in and play early on in his career."

Anderson also has an athletic pedigree as his father played wide receiver for Minnesota in the mid-1980s and his mother was a member of the Gopher track team.

Instead of following his parents footsteps, he decided to cross the border and play for the Badgers.

"Isaac, he's a speed guy," Mason said. "When you lose the guys [we did], I thought we needed to get a couple guys that could flat run and Isaac is a track guy also and his speed was the thing that jumped out at you."

Diondrae Jenkins was listed as an "athlete" on the official recruit list, but he will probably start out working as a wide receiver.

The Racine, Wis. native was a two-time first-team all-state twice at Park High School, who caught 35 passes for 700 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Along with helping his team win a state championship, he lettered three times in both basketball and track as well, winning a state title in the 400 last spring.

"He's a big guy, a big, taller guy that just needs to play some," Mason said. "I think that he's got an opportunity to come in and at some point in his career be a good receiver for us."

Mason said he liked the 6-2, 192-pound frame that Jenkins will bring with him to UW.

"He certainly has the physical attributes."

Niles Brinkley is one of many two-way players that could play either side of the ball at UW. He was among the top 70 in cornerbacks in the country according to Scout.com, but was listed on UW's official recruit sheet as a wide receiver.

"It was great to get back in the St. Louis area," Bielema said. "He can play either side of the football. We'll probably start him on the offensive side."

Brinkley was injured in his senior season at Beaumont High School in St. Louis, but Bielema said Brinkley signed a waiver to be examined by doctors and they felt "completely comfortable with his situation."

"He's a guy that we really expect to see some big things out of," Bielema said.

Another athlete, Josh Nettles of Ponce de Leon, Fla., could play wide receiver. Nettles was a quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety in high school.

Needless to say, the Badger coaching staff did a good job of bringing in potential receivers from all over the country and players that had many different capabilities.

"As a receiver coach, I'm really happy," Mason said. "I think they're very good. All of them bring a little something different to the table. Being with (offensive coordinator) Paul (Chryst) a year, you get an idea what he's looking for. I thought we were able to get some pretty good guys."

As for the instant impact, only time will tell.

"I don't want to put limitations on people, I don't believe in that," Bielema said. "I really believe the ability to play as a freshman relies more on your mental ability, more-so than your physical ability."

Mason said he feels confident with his group of receivers heading into spring ball, but says which players will stand out is still somewhat of a mystery.

"In a perfect world we're going to go through spring ball and find four or five guys we really feel good about, and probably have a couple of these freshman in the mix a little bit this first year," Mason said. "The neat thing about it, I don't know which two or three they're going to be because they all are different types of guys."

But Mason was not shy about admitting that he will definitely be counting on the youngsters the staff signed Wednesday.

"Well you never really want to say a true freshman has to come in and play for you right away, I think we'll have a couple of guys that can do it," he said. "I don't have any problem playing young guys. I like they're new energy. If all those guys make it to camp, I like our chances here in the future."

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