20 on '20: Wisconsin's Cornerbacks and the South Florida Connection
As Wisconsin football student-athletes started "voluntary athletics activities" on June 15 -- AllBadgers.com wanted to begin a series dedicated to the program entering a 2020 season that is supposed to start on Sept. 4 against Indiana.
I had some questions as to the parameters, however. Do we highlight breakout or "most important" players according to a specific set of standards?
Perhaps we look at the biggest concerns with a team returning many starters and contributors but has specific questions needing to be answered at key positions?
In that light, AllBadgers.com presents its "20 on '20" series where we dissect (you guessed it) 20 topics pertaining to the football program. For those needing to catch up, here is the series so far:
- No. 1: Wisconsin's Deepest Position Groups
- No. 2: Wisconsin's Special Teams
- No. 3: Replacing Two Key Wisconsin Linebackers
- No. 4: 20 on '20: Wisconsin's Recruiting 'Upswing' in Recent Years
- No. 5: Tailgating Before, Attending Wisconsin Games at Camp Randall Stadium
- No. 6: Wisconsin's Running Back Room Post-Jonathan Taylor Era
- No. 7: Wisconsin's Wide Receivers and Replacing Three Contributors
Topic No. 8: Wisconsin's Deep Cornerback Room and a South Florida Connection
AllBadgers.com already discussed this position group in our first installment of this series in looking at the deepest rooms on the Wisconsin roster. With the commitment of cornerback Ricardo Hallman on Monday, however, it is worth looking at the secondary again through the lens of recruiting and a particular area in the southeast where three student-athletes could make an impact.
Wisconsin boasts a three-deep of cornerbacks who have started at least one game in the past two seasons -- Caesar Williams, Faion Hicks, Rachad Wildgoose, Deron Harrell, Donte Burton and Semar Melvin.
Williams, a Texas native, led the teams in pass breakups with 11. Arguably his biggest plays of the season came against wide receiver Tyler Johnson on a goal-line stand at Minnesota in late November.
Harrell started four of the eight games he played in last season and recorded four pass breakups, though UW's participation logs shows he played in only two of the last eight contests.
Burton started in two October contests against Michigan State and at Illinois and played 12 games overall. He was credited with a half-sack off of a corner blitz in the Rose Bowl loss against Oregon.
The other three -- Hicks, Wildgoose and Melvin -- all saw significant action in 2019. All three also come from the South Florida area as well. Wisconsin has recruited the area well, especially in recent years, and the trio should have an opportunity to make an impact next season (if next season takes place, of course).
A Miami (FL) Flanagan product -- though Hallman's head coach, Daniel Luque, noted that his first two years were at Fort Lauderdale (FL) University School -- Hicks started 12 of the 14 games last season. He contributed 32 tackles on the season (second to Williams's 35 for the position group), and I believe he has the skillset to work both on the outside and in the nickel slot position.
Wildgoose (13 games, eight starts in 2019) also has that ability, and the Miami Northwestern product contributed 22 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception last season. I feel like I have always been high on what he can bring on the field, and in two seasons, he has already played in 23 contests with 15 starts. As a junior, AllBadgers.com will keep an eye on how defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard utilizes him (and of course, all the corners).
What stood out about Melvin during his freshman season was the fact the corner from Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas did not just play in four games, but he started two of them in big-time atmospheres against Minnesota and Ohio State at the end of the 2019 campaign. Those were two of the tougher opponents in terms of the talent at wide receivers, and he still maintained his redshirt.
With those six, along with players like Alexander Smith and Travian Blaylock, how Leonhard mixes and matches with his versatility at corner has been and will continue to be one of the intriguing items to watch during fall camp (if, of course, reporters are allowed to view practices during this August with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic).
Let us not forget other players from South Florida who have come to Wisconsin previously as well. Though he transferred to Vanderbilt right before the 2018 season, Donte Carriere-Williams was a 2016 signee from Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas. He worked mostly as the third cornerback behind Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal during that 2017 campaign where UW finished with a 13-1 mark.
Though not recruited by the current Wisconsin staff led by Paul Chryst, Tindal recorded starts in all four seasons in Madison. He finished his Badgers career with 52 games played, 34 of them coming as a starter, on way to 26 pass breakups and six interceptions.
Going even farther back, another Fort Lauderdale product, Sojourn Shelton set a school-record for games started (51) and turned into a standout cornerback who claimed first-team all-Big Ten honors by the media in 2016.