20 on '20: Wisconsin's Walk-On Tradition and Potential Contributors Next Season
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
- No. 8: Wisconsin's Deep Cornerback Room and a South Florida Connection
- No. 9: Jake Ferguson and What 2020 Could Bring
No. 10: Potential Walk-On Contributors for Wisconsin Next Season
Surprised that I have not brought this up yet? Same here, considering I co-wrote a book on Wisconsin's walk-on tradition with former Badger Joel Nellis (you can still find it on Amazon!).
We all know how Jim Leonhard, J.J. Watt, Joe Schobert, Dare Ogunbowale, Jared Abbrederis, Rick Wagner, Alex Erickson and many others have influenced the program in recent memory (there are more I did not list, so apologies if I did not list your favorite one). For this upcoming season, however, just which players who initially came to UW without a scholarship could possibly make an impact on the program?
Let us look at the three phases of the game.
Note: AllBadgers.com is looking at both current and former walk-ons, with the latter meaning they have been given a scholarship.
Beginning with the offensive line, Josh Seltzner started four of the 14 games he played in last season. With the unit needing to replace three key players in Tyler Biadasz, David Moorman and fellow former walk-on Jason Erdmann, the Columbus, Wis., native should be in contention to lock down one of the interior guard spots.
At running back with Jonathan Taylor departing for the NFL, a trio of contributors should at the very least step forward to continue the tradition. That includes redshirt senior Garrett Groshek, who in three seasons has rushed for 916 yards on 5.5 yards per carry.
Staying in the backfield, junior John Chenal has shown versatility in carrying the rock, setting up lead blocks and even catching some passes. Along with redshirt senior Mason Stokke and redshirt freshman Quan Easterling -- both scholarship players -- the fullback position is in good hands.
With Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Aron Cruickshank gone, Wisconsin has four seniors that could solidify the wide receiver group in their final year in the program. Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor are two of the scholarship players, but Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz both started their careers as walk-ons and have emerged as dependable contributors on offense and special teams.
For that matter, Dunn scored a touchdown both rushing and receiving last season.
In a chat with reporters on June 19, Chryst discussed how he thought Davis and Pryor have delivered big moments, "and now it's their opportunity to turn those into big seasons." Yet he also mentioned Dunn and Krumholz, who both played all 14 games last season.
"For them, they've had the right approach," Chryst said of Pryor and Davis initially. "They know this is their last shot at it and I've loved the way they've kind of gone about preparing for it, and I think the same could be said for 'Dunner' and 'Krumm.' What 'Krumm' did on special teams for our team, if he can take that over and do similar on offense, that would be a huge contribution to this team, right?"
At tight end, who asserts themselves behind Jake Ferguson will be interesting to watch. Could that be someone like Gabe Lloyd, who appeared to receive many reps during 2019 spring ball but missed the season due to a right leg injury?
Other walk-ons in Mickey Turner's room include Jack Eschenbach, who played in four games last year, and Coy Wanner.
At defensive end, Matt Henningsen has developed into a starting-caliber student-athlete. Last season, he contributed 24 tackless, five for loss, along with four sacks. He also recovered three fumbles, two of which he scored touchdowns on.
Going to the second level of the unit, Wisconsin's inside linebackers will need to replace its heart in Chris Orr. Though sophomore Leo Chenal appears physically ready to step in alongside junior Jack Sanborn, redshirt senior Mike Maskalunas also could make an impact. In 2019, the Illinois native played in all 14 contests and recorded 16 tackles.
When Orr spoke with AllBadgers.com in April, he briefly discussed both players.
"I think Mikey's gonna have a big year. Leo's going to have a big year," Orr said. "That'll probably end up being like a three-man rotation, but they also got some young guys. Maema (Njongmeta), I think he's gonna make some strides."
At safety, Wisconsin boasts a deep position group that includes three walk-ons who found time on the field last year. Collin Wilder earned a scholarship after initially transferring from Houston and walking on to the program. He played in all 14 games (with two starts), tying for second on the team in pass breakups (six). He also recorded 19 tackles, 2.5 for loss.
When both Reggie Pearson and Eric Burrell received targeting penalties in the home win against Michigan during the third quarter, Wilder and a couple other walk-ons -- Tyler Mais and John Torchio -- needed to jump in. Torchio later reeled in an interception at the end of the win against the Wolverines and started against Northwestern the following week with Burrell and Pearson sitting out the first half.
With a loaded defensive backfield, it will be intriguing to see how the trio work their way into reps.
Wisconsin will need to replace three key members of this unit in kicker/kickoff specialist Zach Hintze, and punters Anthony Lotti and Connor Allen. There are many under the walk-on umbrella who could be candidates for spots in 2020.
For that matter, Allen served as the team's holder for extra points and field goals the past four seasons. Earlier this year, he mentioned fellow walk-on Conor Schlichting as someone he believed would take over those duties.
"I've been kind of coaching him over the last year or two, working with him on holding, and he's definitely a good holder for sure," Allen said of Schlichting in mid-May. "He'll have no problem with that. He'll be all good there."
Schlichting is listed as a punter, and that position should be something to watch. There is also Dubuque transfer Andy Vujnovich, though in March head coach Paul Chryst believed that the program was still working through the process of eligibility for the former Division III specialist (and AllBadgers.com also needs to confirm he is in fact a walk-on). In-state 2020 product Gavin Meyers also committed to Wisconsin earlier this year.
At kicker, redshirt junior Collin Larsh should be the veteran in the room as he made 12-of-18 field goals and 53-of-54 extra points in 2019. How redshirt freshman Joe Stoll and even true freshman Jack Van Dyke fare during the preseason will be something to watch for both the placekicking and kickoff duties.