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December 22, 2012

Andersen stresses recruiting

MADISON, Wis. - It didn't take long for new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen to dive into a recruiting pitch for his new school. During his introductory press conference Friday, Andersen stressed that under his watch the Badgers won't be deviating too much from their traditional offensive formula- perhaps to reassure both fans and recruits who were concerned about the coaching change.

"I've been around three NFL backs the last two years at Utah State, and that's because we run the football," Andersen said. "I expect to be able to do the exact same thing here with tremendous athletes on the offensive line tight ends, fullbacks, and wide receivers that will block you."

And while some Badger fans were probably satisfied with Andersen's answer, Wisconsin's 2013 recruiting class might take a little more reassuring. But Andersen said getting to know current Wisconsin commitments is already high on his priority list, and he'll start reaching out to them as soon as he gets clearance from the NCAA.

"There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of hours, countless hours put into having these young men commit to the University of Wisconsin and to play football here," Andersen said. "It's my job now to reach out to those young men, to those families, and let them understand the direction that we're headed and that they're in great hands."

To do that, Andersen announced that he will be retaining secondary coach Ben Strickland, who handled in-state recruiting for the Badgers in his first year as a full-time assistant coach and at this time last season when the Badgers were forced to replace several other assistant coaches.

"I want him here in the worst way, and it's important for me to have him on the staff," Andersen said. "Ben has shown me how important he is, and he is Wisconsin, if you will."

The Badgers currently have seven commitments from in-state players, and Andersen said Strickland will be instrumental in helping them get through the transition period and in to signing day in early February. In addition, Strickland's in-state contacts with high school coaches should help Andersen get acquainted with the new state that he said he wants to secure for future recruiting classes. The Badgers have thrived off of in-state recruiting in the past, and Andersen said he wants to make sure that continues.

"We'll wrap our arms around the coaches," Andersen said. "We'll wrap our arms around every player, and we'll have a strong walk on program because there's terrific coaches, there's terrific players in the state of Wisconsin.

"There's also something special about playing in your own state. You can't underestimate that. We'll do a tremendous job in reaching out to those young men."

Andersen also tried to sway any fears about his lack of ties to the Midwest and other "traditional" recruiting grounds for Wisconsin. Andersen spent all of his coaching career in Utah or the western part of the country prior to coming to Wisconsin, but he said that a good coach can recruit players anywhere in the country.

"We should be able to get into any recruiting fight that we want to get ourselves into," Andersen said. "Good coaches, good recruiters can walk into any living room and show what a university is."

So while Andersen's program will presumably continue to recruit players in Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and other traditional Wisconsin pipeline states, he said they'll also try and compete for the best running backs in the nation, in addition to expanding their reach to other areas that his new staff members know as well.

"I know that we have the ability to reach out to any young man in the country and again let them understand who we are as a program, and they'll be interested," Andersen said. "So we'll recruit a lot of different areas, but we will focus where the University of Wisconsin has been successful."

Andersen has apparently already hired Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a to the same position at Wisconsin, which could mean that the Badgers will try and recruit Polynesian players if the fit is right, in addition to expanding their presence in California and Texas, two areas where Utah State had a good deal of success for a WAC conference member.

Above all else, Andersen said he is not worried about having to sell himself or his new program to potential recruits. Andersen said the University of Wisconsin is already well respected on the recruiting trail, and he'll focus more on what his program has to offer.

"There may be some programs out there in the country that have to do that. They have to go sell their program," Andersen said. "But that's not what we are and what we're doing. I'm excited to get in those fights in the Big Ten and show people why they should come here."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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