Jan. 31, 2012
UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas sat down with Wisconsin's trio of early enrollees for an exclusive feature in this week's special Signing Day edition of Varsity Magazine. You can find an excerpt below before the complete story -- along with an exclusive video -- appears in the latest edition of Varsity on Thursday. Click here to subscribe for free.
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Each was thrown a curve the first week of classes.
"It was a little hectic,'' Dan Voltz volunteered.
"I thought it would be worse,'' Hugs Etienne conceded.
"I was assigned some 60 pages to read my first day,'' Vonte Jackson sighed.
It's all part of the learning curve for mid-term high school graduates.
Voltz, Etienne and Jackson are each transitioning to a new environment -- and community.
As such, they're no different than any other first semester college freshman. Then, again, they are different.
Voltz, Etienne and Jackson are members of the 2012 Wisconsin football recruiting class.
The Early Bird Special -- spring enrollment -- has become a popular facet of the sport.
To varying degrees, the Badgers have embraced the concept.
"Past guys have been successful,'' said UW coach Bret Bielema, "which leads me to believe that these three can handle the academics and get ingrained with the way we do things.''
In addition, he said, they will get a jump on their classmates who sign tenders Wednesday.
"Coming up early has given me the opportunity to get used to everything,'' Etienne said. "If I would have come up during the summer it would have put more pressure on me.''
From this standpoint, he can adjust to everything at his own pace.
That includes the weather.
Etienne is from Plantation, Fla.; a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.
It doesn't snow much in south Florida; nor Haiti, which is where he was born.
Etienne moved to the United States when he was 6 years old.
"Beautiful kid,'' Bielema said. "Haitian (Creole) is the No. 1 language spoken in his home, so it has been a transition jumping up here. He's going through a lot of changes.
"But every time I've seen him, he's had a big grin on his face.''
Hugs is short for his full name, Hugsanly.
"My parents call me `Ego' at home,''' Etienne said.
It really doesn't appear that he has an ego to speak of, either. That goes for Voltz and Jackson, too.
"Most of the time we're hanging out together, `' Etienne said, "and that's good.''
Good from the sense that there's strength in numbers, and all of this can be overwhelming.
"If I was up here alone, I think it would be a lot harder,'' Voltz said of the adjustment period. "It has helped to have the other two guys to relate to on a daily basis.''
Not that homesickness should be an issue for Voltz, who's from Barrington, Ill., 32 miles outside of Chicago. Nor for Jackson, who's from Kenosha, 32 miles outside of Milwaukee.
But what about Etienne, who's miles and miles away from home?
"It still doesn't completely feel like I'm completely gone (from Florida) -- I haven't been homesick yet,'' he said. "My parents call me every day.''
His mom and dad -- Rosemarthe and Evance -- call every single day?
"They want to make sure they talk to me when I wake up in the morning,'' he said, "and at night before I go to sleep. I've got four brothers and I try talk to them every day also.''
Etienne noted that one of things that sold him on Wisconsin was "knowing there are Florida guys'' on the roster. There were a number of other things that factored into his decision, as well.
"When I first got my offer, I did my research,'' he said.
That included looking into the engineering program on campus.
"I just fell in love with the school,'' said Etienne, a 5-11, 175-pound cornerback. "The last few weeks (before enrolling), I still had schools recruiting me -- trying to change my mind.
"But I told them straight-up, `I'm committed to Wisconsin.'"
Voltz told those who asked -- recruiters -- the very same thing.
That was especially true in the wake of some coaching changes on the UW staff.
"When I committed in March, I committed to the University of Wisconsin,'' Voltz said, "and not necessarily the coaching staff, so those changes didn't affect my decision.
"That's something you have to realize at whatever school you're at -- those coaches can get up and leave at any time even if the team is having success.
"It's important to commit to the school and know where you belong.''
Voltz and Etienne are both looking forward to taking part in spring practice. So is Jackson. But the circumstances are much different since he's coming off ACL surgery.
"Right now, I'm doing everything they're doing,'' Jackson said of his classmates in the out-of-season conditioning program. "But, when they're running, I'm on the sidelines working with a trainer.
"I won't have any contact in the spring. But I know that I'll be doing some position drills and running the plays. Over this process, it has helped me build mental toughness.''
Jackson blew out his knee in the first game of his senior year at Kenosha Bradford.
"I don't even like talking about it,'' he said.
Prodded, he remembered that there were only 16 seconds left in the first half.
"I ran about 40 yards and I had my foot planted when I got hit high and low,'' said Jackson, who had accumulated 140 rushing yards on just 12 carries against Milwaukee Riverside when he went down.
"I wasn't thinking ACL (immediately). I just knew something was wrong. When I tried to stand up, I knew it was bad.''
After the injury was diagnosed, Jackson had to deal with the potential consequences.
"There were so many things going through my head,'' said Jackson, who had already verbally committed to the Badgers. "The No. 1 thing was probably my scholarship.
"What's Coach Bielema going to think? Is he going to take it away?
"But I talked to him to right away and he told me not to worry about anything.''
Bielema remembered getting a message from Jackson's coach.
"They didn't know if the scholarship was still going to be there, if that would be all ruined,'' Bielema said, "so I had to put him at ease.
"I kind of had to help Vonte through it. The one thing I could tell him is that I've had two ACL reconstructions myself, so I knew what he was going to be going through.
"I know the initial shock is overwhelming. But there are going to be brighter days ahead.''
Read the rest of Lucas' story on the Badgers' three early enrollees Thursday in the latest edition of Varsity Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the free weekly publication via email.