2021 TE Jack Pugh 'Couldn't Find Anything Negative with Wisconsin,' According to Dad
As their family was driving home from Penn State last Friday, Dan Pugh heard his son, Jack, confirm where he wanted to play college football.
“We wanted to make sure he saw the campus and he wanted to make sure he was able to evaluate everybody," Dan Pugh told AllBadgers.com on Tuesday. "On the way back, we sat down and just kind of went through the criteria that he had for making a decision -- academics, use of tight ends, coaching staffs, environment, social life, all that stuff. He's pretty thorough. He just went through all that and couldn't find anything negative with Wisconsin. Everything was so great.
"He checked every box, and so he said, ‘You know, I'm a Badger.’ He just told us in the car ride home."
After that, the family set an announcement date, Jack Pugh called tight ends coach Mickey Turner, and on Monday afternoon, he announced his commitment to play at Wisconsin.
Looking at 247Sports' standalone ratings, the service ranks the 6'5, 230-pound prospect in higher regard as the No. 159 recruit and No. 6 in the nation at that particular position group for this upcoming recruiting cycle.
According to Dan, Wisconsin has been the leader for Jack "for a long time." He has been to Madison three times, most recently during a March 1 junior day event, but he wanted to check some boxes and visit other schools, which included a trip to Happy Valley last week.
The prep standout wanted to announce his decision in June initially, but the process was sped up by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With recruiting in a dead period until June 30 by an NCAA declaration -- which was further extended through the end of July on Wednesday -- Dan said that his son did not want to wait until the season.
"He sat down and evaluated his offers and said Wisconsin's been from the start," Dan Pugh said. "Coaching staff's amazing. We couldn't think of any negatives, couldn't find anything on the downside of Wisconsin. Everything was positive, and it didn't hurt that his brother's two hours away (at Northwestern), and that's his best friend, and he'd be close. That was all part of that decision.”
As Wisconsin has treated his son well, Dan also believes the UW staff has been great to him and his wife. He noted how the program has been transparent and honest from the beginning of Jack's recruitment. They gave the young prospect time to go through the process and the right amount of space to make sure it was the right decision for him.
“Coach Turner has been just awesome," Dan Pugh said. "I think we all feel like we have a friendship with him after talking to him on the phone and meeting him in person, and Coach (Joe) Rudolph did a good job as well. Then Coach (Paul) Chryst, when we sat down with him on our one visit, he couldn't be an easier guy to talk to. Felt like we were just sitting on the back porch with some friends, just hanging out and talking about anything.
“Just a great group of guys and can't wait for Jack to get up there.”
Hilliard (OH) Bradley head coach Mike LoParo believes Pugh is unique and that his upside is "through the roof." What makes the tight end's situation so special is the fact that both 247Sports and Rivals reported at least 20 offers for a player that has suited up for just one season of high school football.
Initially, Pugh was into another major sport, basketball. After an ankle injury in the middle of the season as a sophomore, Dan noted how his son started working out and lifting more.
“He really enjoyed it, and then he started working out, and he just said, ‘I'm gonna try it out. I’m going to give football a shot and see what happens,'" Dan Pugh said. "A lot of his friends played football, and the rest was history.
“He played his first season, had some success, and it doesn't hurt he has the size that gives him an advantage. The recruiting started, and he fell in love with football and said he just loved football so much he doesn't need to play basketball anymore.”
Early on, LoParo and his staff used Pugh and some of those basketball intangibles -- his physicality and explosiveness -- on the outside at the "X" wide receiver position. There 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 told AllBadgers.com on Tuesday. "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."
LoParo stated that Pugh will play the Jaguars' LEO position next season, which the head coach described as a strong-side defensive end spot.
On the flip side of the ball, LoParo said Pugh will also play more in a tight end role that could be used in a couple of fashions whether on the line or in motion as an H-back. For that matter, Wisconsin sees him at that position when he gets to Madison.
"(Wisconsin's coaches) think he's got the size and the speed to play any down at tight end," Dan Pugh said. "He can block, come inside and block or go out at the X or Y. He can pretty much play any position because he does have the speed with the size, so they're hoping to use him in a lot of different situations.”
In due time, the Pugh family will have two sons who have played in the Big Ten Conference and within the same division. Dan stated there could be a season of overlap, as superback Trey has two years of eligibility remaining -- making Jack's first year as a Badger in 2021 the one time the siblings could face off.
It may be a house divided, but one where the parents will support each son by donning a jersey of the respective programs they represent. That being said, Dan Pugh mentioned a little jab that little brother has already started.
Apparently, Jack has told Trey that he will tell his future Badgers teammates exactly how to trash talk the Wildcat.
“He's got a lot of ammunition," Dan Pugh said, "and he plans on telling them everything they need so they can mess with him next year.”