Coach Breakdown: Wisconsin TE Commit Jack Pugh
Not bad for a junior who only played one year of high school football. According to Hilliard Bradley head coach Mike LoParo, Pugh is unique and believes in the upside for the 247Sports four-star prospect and No. 6 tight end in the nation for the 2021 class.
"I mean, it's through the roof," LoParo told AllBadgers.com on Tuesday morning.
LoParo admitted that he kept bugging Pugh to come out for the football team "year after year." The student-athlete played basketball and track earlier in high school, but eventually the head coach heard good news, and as he described it, "the rest is history."
"Next thing you know, he's picking up offers left and right and developed a ton from the beginning of camp last year through the end of the season," LoParo said.
One of those opportunities came from the Badgers, and on Monday afternoon, Pugh announced his decision to commit to Wisconsin.
According to LoParo, one of the first conversations he had with Pugh about where he would see himself wanting to play, "Wisconsin was the first school he said." That showed the prep head coach the desire was strong as soon as offers started rolling in.
LoParo has also known Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph for a long time, and he saw how the UW assistant kept in contact with Pugh and saw how he would fit within the program.
"Then coach (Paul) Chryst came in as well, and they're just great people," LoParo said. "I think Jack just really enjoyed just normal people, not coming in with a bunch of jargon to talk about and this, that and the other. They just came in and sat down -- I don't even think we talked much football -- we just talked about life. What their journeys were like, what Jack's journeys have been like.
"Jack went up -- his brother, Trey, plays at Northwestern -- so the whole family went out during football season. Mom and Dad stayed at Northwestern, and Jack and a couple of my other players drove up to Wisconsin to watch that game. So I think he's been out there three times, and he just loves it, and I think every school he visited after that he was basically comparing to Wisconsin to kind of mark them off."
LoParo noted that Pugh is a legitimate 6'5 with his shoes off, so he has size plus intangibles. He and his coaching staff also saw what he could bring on the basketball floor with his physicality and explosiveness.
Hilliard Bradley runs a spread offense that utilizes a passing attack that emphasizes timing with short throws coupled with some deep shots downfield. In terms of a ground game, the program also runs inside and outside zone, something the head coach described as a "typical college system."
Early on, LoParo and his staff used Pugh on the outside at the "X" wide receiver position where the offense could take advantage of his height, speed and leaping ability against smaller opposing cornerbacks. His roles changed over the course of the season, however.
"As the year went on and he continued to learn, we started to move him inside, and then we started to attach him as a tight end," LoParo said. "He just continued to get better and better and better and develop all those skill sets. So right around the midway point of the season, we started using him on defense, too, because I hate looking to my left when we're on defense or to my right and seeing one of our best players standing beside me. So I'm like, 'Look, we got to find a way to get this kid on the field,' and he took off there.
"I think the first game he played, he had 11 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery all in one game in his first action on defense. He just kept getting better and understanding how to use his body and leverage and all those types of things. His development was unbelievable. Wait till he has another year under his belt, and then he gets to (Wisconsin's) coaching staff, how that kid's gonna develop. It's gonna be fun to watch."
According to both LoParo and Pugh's father, Dan, Wisconsin projects him to play at that tight end position. Early on in his high school football career, LoParo has already seen Pugh display strengths of having good hands and knowing how to high point the football, something he attributes to the recruit's basketball acumen.
Over the course of the year, Pugh's route runner evolved into what LoParo called "stellar," and praised his athlete's work ethic and described him as a "weight room kid."
"(Wisconsin's) getting a kid who -- I don't know if he'll play with any type of chip on his shoulder or whatever -- but he's always going," LoParo said. "His motor is unbelievable, and that's what he's going to give you. Every snap, he's gonna be going full bore. Again, the developmental piece and the tools and all that stuff, he's got it all, and that's just going to get better and better."
When asked about areas of growth heading into his senior year and helping the Jaguars, LoParo said that Pugh will once again play on defense, this time at the team's "LEO" position.
At that strong-side defensive end spot, the coach stated Pugh will "have to be fantastic" as an edge setter, and one of his duties will involve squeezing off gaps. On the other side of the ball, they hope to use him in the middle of the field.
"Work him against linebackers and safeties, and work into those middle grounds where there's holes that develop in a defensive drop package," LoParo said.
"We're gonna just try to use him as one of our big targets. We've got another kid who already has offers, too, so we've got two really dynamic receivers that are very different. Jack's gonna be more of that tight end type a kid where we can attach him or we can move him in from the H-position and motion and things like that. Really get him matched up inside on linebackers that he's going to be better than in terms of athletically in size."