Transcript: Gary Andersen Signing Day press conference Comments from UW head coach Gary Andersen's signing day press conference at Camp Randall
Feb. 6, 2013
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin football head coach Gary Andersen met the media Wednesday to discuss signing day and the new additions to the Badgers’ roster.
A complete transcript of Andersen's remarks can be found below.
Andersen: First of all, it's great to be here. Had a good day. Got to get up at 5:30 to spend an hour with the men in the program and a workout, great way to start the day. Bought a house a few weeks ago. My wife was able to see the house today and approve the house. That's a big step for us as a family. Thirdly, no surprises, everybody signed a letter and got it back to us. So it's exactly what we expected, but you never know when the curveballs may come on signing day. Proud of the young men.
A couple of things with regard to the players that hosted the young men. That's a big part of the whole process as you go through it. Also, Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland did an amazing job through the transition of initially just calming the waters if you will, when all the commits had been on campus, allowing us the opportunity for the coaching staff to come on and build relationships and start over only from the standpoint of who we are as coaches.
These young men were very willing for the most part to conform to what the University of Wisconsin gave them in a world class education and tremendous facilities and the tradition of football. It was not a simple process. It was really a one part process to just let them understand what we are as a coaching staff and what our expectations are and then really work into the homes to gain the trust of the families of the young men.
We had one young man reaffirm his commitment and reach out to the young men and have them on campus and have them be part of the program, which was a great thing. The coaches did a tremendous job. It was a team effort. The areas are scattered. It's very unconventional recruiting when you take over a job in the time frame we did to solidify a class. Proud of the staff, proud of the young men in the program for helping us with the recruiting process.
Lastly, thanks to everyone in the administration for allowing us to get coaches here in a timely manner. There are so many people out there to thank when it comes from the administrative standpoint to allow us to get out on the road, have a recruiting weekend that's a success. Secretaries I can go on and on. Just a great thanks to all of them for allowing us to be able to do our jobs ultimately, and it takes a lot of hard work to make that happen.
As far as the class goes, it was important to identify the needs, if you will, to be able to see the practice and watch every one of them commit to the staff. When we were at the Rose Bowl practices and locked ourselves in the room and really evaluated the young men that were already committed and then looked at the practices, and then we were able to build a sheet of our needs list. When I say needs list, the most important factors of next year's team -- that's the most important process -- but also to ensure quality football players for the future throughout all four classes.
I think, for the most part, we were able to do that. Not completely done yet. There are still possibilities for young men to join the program as we move forward, but we will not take anybody that we don't see as a difference maker in our program at this point. So we'll be patient. When that happens, it happens. And we'll keep recruiting every single day, not just through 2014, but to finish off the 2013 class and move forward.
Exciting time for all of us. Excited to move on to the workouts and get the spring ball that's coming our way soon. Right now we can talk about these young men. I'll take any questions you have.
Question: Gary, you said a couple times in various interviews today that three years for you is the appropriate time to judge whether a class is successful. I'm curious, why that time frame and how will you determine whether a class is successful in your eyes?
Andersen: A successful class is a great football program, and the expectation is to be great at the University of Wisconsin. That's a simple statement, but you're going to hear me say this a lot in the next year. This team, the way they work, the way they prepare, they want to be great. We'll use that term a lot. You'll see that on T shirts and wristbands, but it's simply going to say "Be Great." That will be the expectation of this crew in three years is to be great.
As far as why the time frame of three years, really, to me, it comes from a lot of different reasons. So much is put into signing day, and on signing day, I really like to have an opportunity to deflect the signing day and spend some time talking about the kids in the program because they're the core. There's so much made over signing day that -- there's some terrific young men.
These young men deserve their day in the sun. It's important for them to be in the spotlight for a day, and I get all that stuff, but the signing day and everything that comes around is built around who's got this star, who's got that star.
When we look at a young man and we spend time evaluating him, it's a special opportunity when we offer a scholarship to the young man at University of Wisconsin. It means he's a fit. It doesn't just mean he's a great athlete, it means he wants to exceed at a high academic standard. It means he wants to be in the community of Madison and represent himself in a way a student athlete is supposed to do it at the University of Wisconsin, and it comes with a lot of obligations.
Stars are not everything to us. It's a fit. We want a toughness factor, someone wants to succeed academically, socially, and athletically, and that's the way we go with it.
People want to sit back and rank this and do this and that on signing day. We don't get into that. If we offer them a scholarship, it's because we believe they'll be a quality student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.
Question: What led you to pursue Tanner McEvoy, given such a quarterback group, and what can he bring to this program?
Andersen: There's a lot to that. When we sit back and look at the quarterback position and where it sits, there are some very good quarterbacks within this program without question. And there's an injury factor that's taken place within the quarterback position, which we all know about, and we want to make sure we're going to solidify the numbers and give us the best opportunity to play at a high level each and every week during the season. That was the reason we started looking for a quarterback.
Overall, we wanted to find one, if it was the right fit, but we want to create as much competition as we can at every position. I believe that we've done that with having Tanner sign a letter of intent with us. He's got three years left.
Another thing I like about Tanner is he's kind of had to fight his way back. A little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He's got a lot of want to in him. He has high expectations of himself. His family has high expectations of himself as he moves through the rest of his career.
From an athletic standpoint, Tanner can hurt you with his arm, his legs, and his mind, how good he is at that at this level remains to be seen. But there are a lot of quarterbacks in this program that are excited about having the opportunity to compete at the starting job. He's just one of them that will have an opportunity to compete.
Question: Obviously, Tanner (McEvoy) was one of the four players added that you're talking about. Who were the others? Why were they identified and added?
Andersen: Donnell Vercher was a safety. We felt like we needed, again, to put ourselves in a position to up the numbers there. He's a tremendous, tremendous athlete. He led the junior college in interceptions, if I'm not mistaken. He moves around very well. Tough minded kid, good tackler. Academics is very important to him. So we wanted a safety and wanted to try to find some experience at the safety spot.
Let me look at this list here and make sure I get them all. Jakkarie Washington is another one. Coach (Bill) Busch found Jakkarie just through the recruiting process. We wanted to evaluate the corners and get a young corner here, another one. Sojourn (Shelton) is here. Keelon (Brookins) is here. They've done a tremendous job thus far in the program in the signing class for two young corners. Wanted to get another one in Jakkarie. He's very fast and very quick, another tough minded young man that academics is important to him. He has a great story behind him, as many young men do, and we're excited to have him be a part of the University of Wisconsin as far as being in the football program and getting a quality education.
I have one more I'm missing -- Leon (Jacobs), linebacker Leon. Coach (Dave) Aranda found Leon. Great story. Only played two years of football. Tremendous, tremendous basketball player all through the AAU programs and going through high school. Picked up football a couple of years ago and is a tremendous athlete. Again, academics for him, it was one of those University of Wisconsin, his father is very, very influential in his life as far as what he expects out of his children academically. He got on the website and did his homework, and in about a 12 hour period, it was a slam dunk, because of the academics at the University of Wisconsin and the world class education that it provides, that Leon was going to join our program.
He's a very versatility athlete. He may be an inside linebacker, outside linebacker, he may be a safety. We'll see as he grows and develops, but his best days are definitely ahead of him. He's at just the beginning of his football career.
Question: Talk a little more about Ben Strickland and how crucial he was with all the -- especially the instate recruits and how responsible he was for making them want to stay and play here.
Andersen: Absolutely. Couple things about Ben, first of all. He reminds me of when I first had an opportunity to get involved in the state of Utah recruiting. It's a special situation to be able to coach at the school where you played, and he takes tremendous pride in that. He takes tremendous pride in the state in his ability to be able to understand and know everyone at such a young age is impressive.
The other thing I would say that Ben has done a tremendous job of -- and I know this because I had to do the state of Utah for many years it's easy to be the yes man in the state. It's easy to say yes, yes, yes, and we'll take this guy and that guy. Ben has done a tremendous job of saying yes when it's yes and saying maybe, we'll see when it's maybe, we'll see. And then say, coach, you know what, it's just not the fit for us right now.
Because of that, he has tremendous relationships with the high school coaches throughout the state. As easy as a statement for me to make, it's an unbelievable thing in the coaching world. Ben has done a tremendous job with that.
As I traveled all through the state, really through all of the Midwest in a car for five days state, we got to know each other really well, sometimes too well through that process, but he just continues to show me that he's a superstar in this profession at a very, very young age.
Question: Gary, you've talked about using junior college players to help with immediate needs. How hard is it to get a junior college player in here? Are there pluses and minuses to going that route?
Andersen: A lot is talked about seems to be more and more talked about at University of Wisconsin, how hard it is to get in this school. It's a privilege to be at this school. For junior college kids, if they take care of business, they have high academic standards as far as the way they're carrying themselves to get through the junior colleges; they'll be able to come in without any problem.
We'll be able to identify those young men. We're never going to wholesale junior college kids. We're not going to go out and sign 12 junior college players, that's not going to happen. But junior college players, a lot of times -- I was a junior college player myself -- there's a chip on their shoulder because they didn't receive that opportunity for whatever reason presented itself at some point in their lives to not be in a Division I program. There are a lot of scenarios. I like that chip on kids' shoulders.
If you look back at the history of University of Wisconsin, that's how the program was built. Tough kids who have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder who have a little bit of I told you so or I'm going to show you as they've gone through their career. They tend to blossom when they get into this environment.
Junior colleges are important. We all have a past on the staff as far as recruiting junior college players, and we'll do our best to pick the right ones. It's never an exact science in high school or junior college, but if we see a young man that we believe can help us play, we'll definitely look into that and take him.
Question: After signing day, most kids don't show up on the depth chart until three or four years later, but given some of these kids are junior college players coming in and the needs on your depth chart, won't there be a chance for impact faster on your roster?
Andersen: I hope so. With junior college kids, that's really the point to bring them in, and my philosophy on that, once we get through conditioning times and get through spring ball and get into fall practice, if the junior college kids are here, they deserve the opportunity to show us who they are very early.
So you're going to see those young men in practice right away. And I explain that to the young men when we recruit them, and I also explain it to the team, understanding that we kind of know what we have with the crew that's here, and if it's a junior college kid, we need to give him an opportunity to come in and compete.
One of the coaches, or probably the coach that does it the best is coach (Bill) Snyder, and I know that's his philosophy. He hasn't told me that personally because I haven't got to him. I would love to. But I know as far as the expectation levels of getting the young men ready through summer and putting them out on the football field early in camp to show what they can do and if they can handle it mentally and physically. So they'll be given that opportunity early.
But I will also say this, so will the freshmen, as much as we can get them in there and see if they can handle it. A lot of them can handle it physically, but the fact of the matter is can you handle big time Division I football from a mentality standpoint day in and day out going to school, traveling, everything that comes with it and I expect a junior college kid to be able to handle it. The big question is can high school kids? It takes a special high school kid to be able to handle that.
Question: Can you touch on the instate kids that make up the recruiting class.
Andersen: Six young men. First is Alec James. Alec is really a treat as we went through the process of recruiting. It was tough to get him to say two words initially, and he's not a big talker, but Alec, he's going to sit down, and Alec will look you in the eye and really study you. He wants to know exactly what's going on, and he made the decision very well. He has a tremendous support staff in his mom and his grandfather and his grandmother.
The coaches at the high school have done a tremendous job of being involved with Alec. It was a big process for him in a whole bunch of schools. He stayed true with us and hung in there and did a nice job. He's a very talented young man. As big as he is, as tall as he is, as physical as he is, and the way he runs is very, very impressive. He's going to be on track team, and he'll probably run the 400, the 4x100 or whatever it is in track. He's a very talented young man.
Hayden Biegel. The timing of Hayden of getting him into the program initially, when I went into the home, I looked at him, and I was like, holy cow that is a good looking young man. I go back to the days with his dad when his dad was at BYU, and there was a little bit of a relationship back there in the past. We're very happy to have him. Another one of the expected to be great offensive linemen at the University of Wisconsin. I feel very good about him and the direction that he's headed, the way he's changed his body really over the last year is very impressive.
Matt Hubley, tough, gritty, does it all, runs the ball, he's physical. He can tackle you. Project him as a safety down the road. His football mind is very impressive. When I walked in the home, Ben was with me. I looked at Ben, and I said, Ben, you're recruiting yourself here. Ben thinks he was good in high school. He's got the plaque and everything at the high school, but he wasn't that good. He couldn't have been.
But Matt's a tremendous, tremendous player and excited about what he brings to the table. You look at him and think is this a young man that could help you initially right out of the gate with special teams? It will be interesting to see how he handles it because I know mentally how tough he is and how he carries himself.
Chikwe (Obasih), another very talented defensive end. It's great to have Alec and Chikwe in that spot to be able to build two freshmen defensive ends. The good thing about both those young men, speaking of Alec and of Chikwe in the same note, they're both athletic enough to be able to get involved into the zone blitz scheme. When we do get into the odd front versus the even front, they're that defensive end that can play with his hand on the ground if need be. He can also get back and drop out in coverage. Both of them can drop out in coverage, and they're both very, very smart young men, so they can handle the mental part of the game, and they're going to blossom and grow physically as they get into the conditioning program as we move forward.
Jazz Peavy, very good at catching contested footballs. When I say that, the sign of a quality receiver is sooner or later, you're going to be covered, and you're going to have to catch a ball that's up in the air, and it's like a rebound in basketball. He does a tremendous job of going up and getting those balls. They used him a lot on fly sweeps if you use the tape. I thought he did a very nice job of putting himself in a position to make big plays, whether the ball was up in the air and contested or out in the open field. He's a big receiver. Also has very good speed.
Then T.J. (Watt). T.J. tells me that he wants to be the best Watt boy. If that's the case, we're in a pretty good spot. He's another tremendous young man, tremendous family, very, very competitive family, which you guys all know, and excited about having him in the program. He reminds me a lot of Paul Kruger, the defensive end for the Ravens. Paul was a quarterback in high school when I recruited him and watched him grow and develop.
I think that, as you look at T.J., what he is going to grow into is a big question. My defensive mind looks over and says, boy, that's a defensive end. And the tight end guy is looking and saying he's a tight end. We'll see how he develops. Right now he's scheduled to be a tight end and throw the ball for us and continue the great tradition of tight ends at the University of Wisconsin.
Question: In talking about signing junior college players, you talk about having different stories, kids developing at different rates. In your experience, have you encountered a negative perception in some corners that they might be a riskier signee than a kid who comes right out of high school? How have you handled that?
Andersen: I think that's definitely out there. Again, when you get into the recruiting process, whether it's high school or whether it's junior college, it's important to get to understand the kid. When we go into a junior college or we go into a high school, we don't just go sit down and talk to a player. We don't just sit down and talk to a coach. We want to see the counselor. We want to see the environment he lives in. We want to reach out to people who are important in his life and reach out to other people.
It's an educational process for us. He may be at a junior college where he didn't grow up. It may be across the country from where he grew up. A lot of times, it's out there. I don't think it's deserved. Again, there are so many reasons why young men get into the junior college situations and educate ourselves on the junior college young men just like we do from the high school kids.
Far from an exact science. I tell my coaches all the time, if you're 2-for-3 in recruiting, you're a great recruiter. If you're 1-for-3, you'll probably end up getting fired one day. That's basically where it is.
Junior college is really no different, but I think it's important for us to make sure the junior college coaches know we will recruit them if they're the right fit for the University of Wisconsin.
Question: Coach, when you look at this class, will you look at it as your first recruiting class at Wisconsin, or was too much done before you got here to leave a valuable thumbprint?
Andersen: It will never be mine, it will always be ours. First of all, I'm just a small part of this process, but I think it is our recruiting class. There was a lot of work done before we got here. I think it was quality work. Bret (Bielema) and his staff definitely did a nice job of identifying young men and put them in a position to be very understanding of what the University of Wisconsin is.
I don't think it can go without stating that the weekend that most of these young men, especially from instate, came it after the transition had taken place, prior to me getting hired, coach (Barry) Alvarez had a weekend, and it was a very powerful weekend. I can't tell you how many times I heard the stories of being at coach Alvarez's house, and during that recruiting weekend, that was a big part of it.
It's our recruiting class. Everybody that had a piece in it is involved, but it's the 2013 recruiting class, and we all had a big part of it.
Question: Coach, at the beginning you mentioned the Rose Bowl practices and how important that was. Can you just elaborate on how that influenced you. Was it as simple as we really need this position or that position?
Andersen: As we've gone through those practices and thought back on them, it's a little bit tough to evaluate a team after 14 or 13 games, I guess it was at that point. They're tired. You've got to be careful how you practice them.
But I did see this. The kids practiced hard. They were all business when they were out there. I thought the work that was done was a great time for us to evaluate. But it did give us an opportunity to sit back and just see the young men in the program and kind of size them up, I guess, if you will. That was a big part of it.
More than anything, it was just great to see how much they liked to be around each other and how excited they were to be in the Rose Bowl and still be around each other. Some teams after 13 weeks really, it's about 18 weeks after you get there can't wait to get away from each other. They still wanted to be playing and still would be playing if they had the opportunity.
We gained a lot from that, but we've gained a lot more from the five or six morning workouts we've had with the kids and being involved in the weight room than we have in the Rose Bowl.
Question: Gary, as you look at your team right now, do you think wide receiver is the greatest area of need, and can (Robert) Wheelwright help right away, do you think?
Andersen: I don't know. I hate to single out a young man and say he's going to come in and help out right away. He'll be given that opportunity. We'll see how he handles that. It's a need for really a couple of reasons. We need to up the numbers there. We're low on those numbers. It appears to be a lot by number of bodies in that position as far as where we're going.
But we need to put ourselves in a situation of productivity. That's not something we're going to turn around and hide from. We need Jared (Abbrederis) to be a better football player. He'll be a lot better football player, when you scheme our offense, if we don't just let them try to take him away.
The kids in this program are working very hard at that, and I'm proud of the way they're moving through this process. They expect them to be the next receivers that come in there and be the dominant guys and play at the high level in the Big Ten. I expect that too.
So the young receivers will have a chance with Robert and with Jazz also, but the young men in the program are going to have to get it done in the spring to see exactly where we sit.
Question: Gary, could you tell us more about your running back Corey Clement out of New Jersey. Secondly, how important is it to have some connections out there on the East Coast? As you know, Barry Alvarez had a lot of success with the staff in recruiting out there.
Andersen: Absolutely. First of all, we will reach out even more into the East Coast, and Thomas Hammock has done a nice job. He has great relationships out there. He'll continue in that area, and we'll branch out with the staff a little bit more into that area to make sure we're doing a great job as far as bringing young men to University of Wisconsin from that area.
Secondly, Corey is a tremendous young man. He's very gifted. He's fast. He's quick. He catches the ball well. He can block. He plays when I recruit a young man, I always make sure I watched a whole game. I watch the highlight tapes, and that's a big part of it, it is. But I want to see how he is in the first quarter, and I want to see how he is in the fourth quarter.
One of the best things I can say about Corey as a running back is in the first quarter he's good, in the fourth quarter he has the ability to kind of really take over. That's because of his toughness. And his family background is unbelievably impressive, the time frame that I had to be in the home and be around his family. He has a tremendous support group. He was locked and loaded on Wisconsin now. There was no that kid did not waver, and he had a lot of people coming and banging down his door. He did not waver at all.
I asked Thomas five or six times in the past few weeks, is he okay? Is he okay? He said, don't worry, Coach. He's good, and he was. Thomas did a tremendous job with that, and Corey and his family are great people.
Question: Some fans or even players on your roster might look at you bringing in a junior college quarterback, and they might say, oh, he wants to bring in somebody that's his guy. Is that something you have or you will address to the current quarterbacks on your roster? What will you tell them about what's next?
Andersen: Curt (Phillips) and I had this discussion a little bit, not on those terms, but he came in after he -- we were just talking about the situation where he is, and he feels healthy, and he feels great. I basically brought it up in the scenario of where we're sitting.
I have a meeting next week with every young man on the team. We'll sit down and have an individual meeting. If they have those concerns, we can sit down and talk about them. They're all my guys. When I talk about it, one of the first things I said in my interview, every one of these kids are my kids. There are only 22 starters. That doesn't matter to me. I'm much more worried about how they're carrying themselves and succeeding off the field than they are on the field.
We just want to create competition. He (Tanner McEvoy) brings an added dimension to the quarterback position that with his ability to be able to run that is a positive. Does that mean he's a starting quarterback? No. The best guy will be whoever performs and leads the team the best way.
That's where that sits, and it's the same with the offensive line, the running backs, the tight ends, the DBs, the D line, linebackers, and so on and so forth. May the best man play.
Question: How would you compare Utah high school football to Wisconsin high school football?
Andersen: Well, first thing I would say is there's a lot more schools in Wisconsin, which I was unaware of. When I made the statement earlier I was going to call every high school coach, and I will, but that hasn't happened yet. 400 plus high schools.
I will say this. Very similar, the care factor, the belief in the kids as a whole, really from ninth grade all the way through is impressive. When I say that, the coaches are involved in the kids' lives for the most part, and it's easy to just say they're the football coaches, and they're out there, and they play really good football, which they do. Both states play very good football. It means a lot to the state.
But past that, I would say this. In the state of Wisconsin, I just see a little bit of an extra care factor for getting the young men prepared for the next level, especially academically. To get to the University of Wisconsin and have the ability to go to school at the University of Wisconsin, you have to prepare from the time you're in ninth grade. You've got to get good grades, and you can't really have a bunch of ups and downs.
That's how the counselor, that’s how the assistant coaches are, that's how the schools are set up is to prepare the young men to succeed at a high level academically, and that's rare. I'm just telling you, that's rare for the coaches to have that care factor and that and then put the quality on the field that they have.
I had a chance to go to the Association's banquet at Lambeau, you want to talk about first class. I've been to many of those from many different states over the years, but those kids, that was their day in the sun there now. It was special opportunity for them to be there, first class banquet for those young men. There's a lot of care factor with these coaches, and I can't wait to get to know more of them.
Andersen: It is a big advantage. They're high school kids adjusting very well, have a smile on their face. I try to make sure I see them every single day and make sure the assistant coaches are around them as much as possible because it's very different than just the two new guys versus the 17 or 18 new guys that walk in together.
So doing well. It's definitely a big advantage. Keelon is still rehabbing through his knee. He's not full speed and will still be somewhat limited in spring although he'll want to go. We'll just definitely stay off on that a little bit and let him continue to rehab and get better before we turn him loose.
Sojourn has gained eight pounds since he's been here. He told me he carries food around with him. We're trying to get the weight on him. He's done a good job of adjusting to school as well. It's really a great advantage. Really as much football as being a college student. Going to class and having the study halls, the mentors, the tutors, and they've lived that for a semester, and that's a tremendous advantage come fall.
Question: What did you learn from talking to Henry Mason about the historically productive recruiting areas for Wisconsin?
Andersen: A lot. I reached out really to coach (Barry) Alvarez early in this process, and he gave me his thoughts and his mindset on what's been effective and why areas have been effective, and one of the first things out of coach Alvarez's mouth was to talk to Henry.
I was able to sit down with Henry along with Vince Ginta a couple days ago, about two or three days ago, and just let him build the perfect scenario, the perfect recruiting map, if you will, for the University of Wisconsin from his knowledge. I put a lot of value into that, and Henry has been unbelievable for us as a staff. He's a very, very valuable, valuable piece of this staff as we move forward in a lot of areas not just in recruiting.
His knowledge at the University of Wisconsin is important to me, I promise you that much.