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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Looking back at Badgers recruiting class of 2021

By Vaseline May26,2024
Looking back at Badgers recruiting class of 2021

The Wisconsin football program was operating at full speed in the summer of 2021.

It was fresh off a 4-3 2020 campaign, though none around the sport viewed any struggle as legitimate given the extreme circumstances of the season. Before that, the program went 10-4 in 2019 with the only losses coming to an all-time great Ohio State team (twice) and to the Justin Herbert-led Oregon Ducks. The program appeared to be in terrific shape under head coach Paul Chryst, and was just finding its grove on the recruiting trail.

Related: Big Ten football 2024 season win-loss record predictions for each team after spring practice

It’s fair to say that was the reality. It had recently headlined a 2019 class with five-star OT Logan Brown and top-ranked QB Graham Mertz, and put together a solid 2020 class with four-star OT Jack Nelson, OLB Nick Herbig and RB Jalen Berger. It entered the 2021 recruiting cycle with momentum. To say the program capitalized would be an understatement.

The 2021 class is still ranked as Wisconsin’s best recruiting class in its history. It finished at No. 16 in the nation with a blue-chip ratio of 43% (9 blue-chip players of 21 total commits). Luke Fickell’s class of 2024 bested that blue-chip ratio, though finished the cycle nine spots back at No. 25 in the nation.

Related: Post-spring Big Ten football 2024 power rankings, starting quarterback rankings

As Badger fans know, what followed was the immediate collapse of the Chryst era thanks to poor coordinator hires, a lack of development from Mertz and philosophical differences with new athletic director Chris McIntosh. Lost in the firing of Chryst and struggles on the field: it happened while the 2021 recruiting class was on campus. In other words, the top-ranked class didn’t make the immediate impact many expected.

There are some members of that group set to start for the Badgers in 2024. But most of them are either gone from the program or out of the sport entirely.

As Wisconsin now continues its work in the class of 2025 cycle, it’s time for a look back at where the program’s entire class of 2021 recruiting class is now:

Five-star OT Nolan Rucci

Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Nolan Rucci (66) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 17 player in class of 2021, No. 5 offensive tackle, No. 1 from Pennsylvania

Rucci is the second-highest-rated recruit in Wisconsin history. That didn’t materialize with the Badgers, as he was a backup at tackle for much of his career. He would’ve been in line to battle for a starting job in 2024 if Jack Nelson hadn’t returned for another season.

Rucci entered the transfer portal after the 2023 season and committed to Penn State.

Four-star OT Riley Mahlman

Apr 11, 2023; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin offensive lineman Riley Mahlman (71) is shown during practice Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 64 player in class of 2021, No. 7 offensive tackle, No. 1 from Minnesota

Mahlman is back starting at right tackle for the Badgers in 2024. He’s developed into one of the program’s better linemen and has a real shot at the NFL with a good 2024 season.

Four-star OT J.P. Benzschawel

Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman JP Benzschawel (67) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 113 player in class of 2021, No. 16 offensive tackle, No. 1 from Wisconsin

Benzschawel remains with the Badgers. He is projected as a backup guard in 2024, though could battle for snaps when the season arrives.

Four-star S Hunter Wohler

Nov 11, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers safety Hunter Wohler (24) celebrates following a play during the third quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 197 player in class of 2021, No. 12 safety, No. 2 from Wisconsin

Wohler is back as arguably the best player on the 2024 Badgers. He has contributed since stepping on the field and has easily fulfilled his high recruiting ranking.

Four-star EDGE T.J. Bollers

Wisconsin quarterback Tanner Mordecai avoids the rush of outside linebacker T.J. Bollers during The Launch, the team’s intra-squad scrimmage at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday April 22, 2023. Credit: Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Recruiting Ranking: No. 236 player in class of 2021, No. 18 edge defender, No. 4 from Iowa

Bollers never found a consistent role with the Badgers. He was bigger than 3-4 outside linebackers, but smaller than 3-4 defensive ends. Then the move to Mike Tressel’s 3-3-5 hybrid scheme again made it challenging for him to find a consistent role.

He entered the transfer portal during 2024 spring practice and recently committed to Cal.

Four-star QB Deacon Hill

Sep 17, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Deacon Hill (10) avoids pressure from New Mexico State Aggies defensive lineman Sterling Webb (26) during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 493 player in class of 2021, No. 27 quarterback, No. 22 from California

Hill’s career has been a rollercoaster since leaving Wisconsin after Paul Chryst was fired in October of 2022. The quarterback transferred to Iowa, where he started much of the team’s 2023 season after an injury to starter Cade McNamara. Hill then re-entered the transfer portal this offseason and committed to Utah Tech.

Four-star TE Jack Pugh

Recruiting Ranking: No. 453 player in class of 2021, No. 11 tight end, No. 10 from Ohio

Pugh redshirted in 2021, played sparingly in 2022 and 2023 before announcing his retirement from football in December, 2023.

Four-star LB Bryan Sanborn

Dec 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Bryan Sanborn (51) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 476 player in class of 2021, No. 52 linebacker, No. 10 from Illinois

Sanborn saw time on special teams in 2022 and 2023 before announcing his retirement from football in March of 2024.

Four-star LB Jake Ratzlaff

Recruiting Ranking: No. 377 player in class of 2021, No. 41 linebacker, No. 5 from Minnesota

Ratzlaff originally chose Wisconsin football over Minnesota and other top hockey programs. Injuries then derailed his football career, which led him back to the hockey rink and to the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Four-star OLB Darryl Peterson

Nov 12, 2022; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Darryl Peterson (17) reacts after a defensive stop during the first quarter as Iowa Hawkeyes offensive linemen Mason Richman (78) and Logan Jones (65) look on at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 385 player in class of 2021, No. 43 linebacker, No. 11 from Ohio

Peterson is set to start for the Badgers at outside linebacker in 2024. He has career totals of 76 tackles, 12.0 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks with 28 games of experience.

Four-star safety Braelon Allen

WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA – SEPTEMBER 22: Braelon Allen #0 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs the ball for a touchdown during the second half in the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 22, 2023 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Recruiting Ranking: No. 227 player in class of 2021, No. 25 linebacker, No. 3 from Wisconsin

Braelon Allen was recruited as a hybrid LB/S coming out of high school. He went on to have a storied Wisconsin career at running back and now plays for the New York Jets.

Three-star WR Markus Allen

Nov 6, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Markus Allen (4) gains yards after the catch as Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Joe Lusardi (37) pursues during the second half at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 53 wide receiver, No. 15 from Ohio

Allen flipped from Michigan to Wisconsin late in the 2021 cycle. The wide receiver began to carve out an on-field role in 2022 before Chryst was fired. He entered the transfer portal after that date, committed to Minnesota, quickly decommitted, re-joined the Badgers program then re-entered the portal in July of 2023.

He spent the 2023 season at Butler Community College and recently committed to Eastern Michigan for the 2024 season.

Three-star RB Jackson Acker

Nov 26, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Jackson Acker (34) rushes with the football in front of Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker Donald Willis (15) during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 32 running back, No. 4 from Wisconsin

Acker is still with the Badgers as a backup running back entering 2024.

Three-star RB Loyal Crawford

Recruiting Ranking: No. 44 running back, No. 5 from Wisconsin

Crawford was dismissed from the program along with RB Antwan Roberts in August of 2021. He then transferred to Independence Community College in January of 2022.

Three-star DL Mike Jarvis

Recruiting Ranking: No. 100 defensive lineman, No. 14 from New Jersey

Jarvis did not see the field for the Badgers during his three-year career. He entered the transfer portal this spring and recently committed to Liberty.

Three-star WR Skyler Bell

Sep 17, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Skyler Bell (11) rushes with the football after catching a pass during the second quarter against the New Mexico State Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 124 wide receiver, No. 6 from Connecticut

Bell was one of Wisconsin’s leading receivers in 2022 and 2023. He entered the transfer portal after the 2023 season and committed to UConn.

Three-star CB Al Ashford

Recruiting Ranking: No. 72 cornerback, No. 9 from Colorado

Ashford redshirted in 2021, played on special teams in 2022 and entered the transfer portal in April of 2023. He committed to Utah State, where he still plays entering 2024.

Three-star EDGE Ayo Adebogun

Recruiting Ranking: No. 54 EDGE, No. 6 from Wisconsin

Adebogun left football entirely after the 2021 season.

Three-star CB Ricardo Hallman

Defensive back Ricardo Hallman warms up for spring practice at the McClain Center in Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday April 2, 2024. Credit: Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Recruiting Ranking: No. 96 cornerback, No. 112 from Florida

Hallman is back as Wisconsin’s best cornerback entering 2024. He was one of the hidden gems of the recruiting class.

Three-star RB Antwan Roberts

Recruiting Ranking: No. 81 running back, No. 28 from Tennessee

Roberts was dismissed from the program early in the 2021 season. He transferred to Independence Community College before landing at Marshall.

Three-star LB Jake Chaney

Oct 22, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Jake Chaney (36) sacks Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell (16) during the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Ranking: No. 128 linebacker, No. 136 from Florida

Chaney is set to start at ILB for Wisconsin in 2024 after both of 2023’s starters departed after the season.

Recap

Oct 1, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst looks on during the third quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Still at Wisconsin (7): Riley Mahlman (starting RT), J.P. Benzschawel (Backup G), Hunter Wohler (starting S), Darryl Peterson (starting OLB), Jackson Acker (backup RB), Ricardo Hallman (starting CB), Jake Chaney (starting ILB)

Transfer portal (9): Nolan Rucci (Penn State), TJ Bollers (Cal), Deacon Hill (Utah Tech), Markus Allen (Eastern Michigan, Loyal Crawford (Independence CC), Antwan Roberts (Marshall), Mike Jarvis (Liberty), Skyler Bell (UConn), Al Ashford (Utah State)

NFL (1): Braelon Allen (New York Jets)

Retired/No longer in CFB (4): Jack Pugh, Bryan Sanborn, Jake Ratzlaff (playing hockey at St Thomas), Ayo Adebogun

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