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November 28, 2013

In depth: Wisconsin's senior class





The Wisconsin Badgers are going to bid farewell to 26 players this Saturday on Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium, so I thought now would be a good time to take a look back at how most of those players were viewed coming out of high school and compare it to what they accomplished at Wisconsin.

Some players lived up to their billing as top-shelf recruits, whereas other players emerged as walk-ons who made a big impact on the team. Each senior has their own story to tell, and while I don't have the space to write about all of them, I've highlighted the heavy-hitters from this year's senior class below.

Jared Abbrederis - WR
Rivals rating: No profile
Career stats: 185 receptions, 2975 receiving yards, 23 TDs

Abbrederis has one of the best walk-on stories you could find anywhere. A preferred walk-on turned scholarship-star, Abbrederis has been Wisconsin's top receiving option over the last two seasons and made a significant impact as a sophomore in tandem with Nick Toon. He's likely headed to the NFL in some capacity, after leaving school as one of the best wide receivers the Badgers have ever had. That's pretty good for someone who didn't have a Rivals profile coming out of high school.

Beau Allen - NT
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 52 games played, 23 starts, 91 tackles, 15 TFLs, 8 sacks

Allen was ranked as the No. 5 recruit out of Minnesota, and the Badgers turned down would-be commitments at defensive tackle to make sure they got him in their 2010 signing class. Allen played right away as a freshman and is on the verge of playing in every game he was eligible for during his career. His 'impact' stats are down this season, but he's played well at nose tackle, a position that's not very conducive to racking up stats. Allen has done the dirty work this season, and Wisconsin's defense might not have been as successful without him.

Ethan Armstrong - OLB
Rivals rating: 2 stars
Career stats: 42 games played, 24 starts, 180 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 8 passes defensed

Armstrong is another former walk-on who made a big impact during his time with the team. Armstrong had to battle through his fair share of injuries and sat out of spring camp this year to recover from another round of surgeries. He was awarded a scholarship this fall while he made the transition to the outside linebacker spot in the 3-4 defense, and has been an important piece that Dave Aranda can move inside or outside depending on the team the Badgers are preparing for.

Chris Borland - ILB
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 53 games played, 46 starts, 400 tackles, 49.5 TFLs, 17 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 8 fumbles recovered, 3 INTs, 18 passes defensed

What else needs to be said about Borland? He wowed the previous staff in a camp out of high school and earned a scholarship offer, and has been a playmaker for the Badgers since his freshman season. His name is dotted all over Wisconsin's individual defensive record book, and he'll go down as one of the best defensive players the Badgers have had in a while.

Brock DeCicco - TE
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 36 games played, 3 starts (at Pittsburgh), 3 catches, 35 yards, 2 TDs

DeCicco transferred from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin before the 2011 season, and sat out a year to fulfill the NCAA's transfer rules. Since then he has played in every game for the Badgers, mostly on special teams.

Tyler Dippel - DE
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 48 games played, 7 starts, 74 tackles, 11 TFLs, 7 sacks

Dippel has played in all but four games during his career at Wisconsin, and helped ease the transition to a 3-4 defense under Dave Aranda by sticking at defensive end along with Pat Muldoon and Ethan Hemer. Having so many experienced ends allowed the Badgers to keep their players fresh this season, and as a senior Dippel has been an emotional and vocal leader for the defense.

Jeff Duckworth - WR
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 39 games played, 2 starts, 34 catches, 443 yards, 2 TDs

Duckworth's career was hampered by nagging injuries, but he made big catches for the Badgers when it mattered most, including one of the biggest in Wisconsin football history. In the 2011 Big Ten Championship Game Duckworth reeled in a catch on 4th down from Russell Wilson even as he was double-covered, setting up Wisconsin's go-ahead score that helped seal up their comeback against Michigan State.

Kyle French - K
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 29 games played, 18-for-29 on FGs, long of 46 yards, 87-for-91 on PATs

French struggled to get his legs under him this season, and eventually lost the starting kicking job to Jack Russell. He deserves credit for still meeting with the media and giving some very frank answers after the Badgers replaced him with Russell, though.

Ryan Groy - OG
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 52 games played, 31 starts

Groy has started at least two games in each of the four years he was eligible to play, and has been a full-time starter since last season. He's played each of the three line positions for the Badgers and also worked as a fullback earlier in his career, when the Badgers had more offensive linemen than they knew what to do with. He'll get a shot at the next level after this season.

Ethan Hemer - DE
Rivals rating: unranked
Career stats: 51 games played, 41 starts, 87 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed

Another former walk-on, Hemer accepted a preferred walk-on offer out of high school and has been a mainstay on Wisconsin's defensive line since the 2010 season. His role shifted a little bit this year: originally a defensive tackle in Wisconsin's 4-3 defense, he moved outside to play as a 3-4 defensive end under Dave Aranda. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, his size was a good physical fit for the position.

Brendan Kelly - OLB
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 46 games played, 21 starts, 104 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles

Kelly has been around for a while- he's in his sixth year on campus, after the NCAA granted him a waiver to keep playing with the Badgers based on his past injury history. Kelly missed most of his first three seasons on campus with various injuries, but has been a regular contributor for the Badgers since the 2011 season. He switched to play the 3-4 outside linebacker spot after playing as a defensive end to start his career.

Zac Matthias - OG
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 43 games played, 5 starts

Matthias has rotated in and out of Wisconsin's starting lineup with Kyle Costigan at right guard, dating back to last season. Rotating him in and out of the lineup has helped the Badgers keep their offensive line relatively healthy for a team that is so thin on scholarship linemen.

Pat Muldoon - DE
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 47 games played, 16 starts, 59 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks

Muldoon has had a big impact in his senior season- he's been a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end, where his big frame helps him occupy two gaps and open up pass rushing lanes for the linebackers. He's made some big plays of his own, too, and really saved his best season for last at Wisconsin.

Conor O'Neill - ILB
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 51 games played, 7 starts, 89 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2 sacks

O'Neill has played a lot for someone who has only started seven games. The Badgers won a pretty contested recruiting battle for his services, and he's made a big impact in his senior season. O'Neill came on strong in fall camp and has rotated in and out of the starting lineup with Derek Landisch. O'Neill has always played particularly well in pass coverage, and even before he was a starter the Badgers depended on him as a valuable sub.

Jacob Pedersen - TE
Rivals rating: 2 stars
Career stats: 51 games played, 31 games started, 97 catches, 1,280 yards, 17 TDs

Pedersen took over for Lance Kendricks as Wisconsin's top tight end target in the 2011 season and really thrived with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Since then his yards and targets have gone up, but he won't top the eight touchdowns he scored as a sophomore. Pedersen has been arguably more important this season, with Abbrederis as Wisconsin's only other reliable pass catcher. Pedersen's athletic ability and blocking experience will likely get him a shot in the NFL as well.

Curt Phillips - QB
Rivals rating: 4 stars
Career stats: 13 games played, 5 starts, 53-for-95 passing (55.8 completion percent), 605 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs

Phillips was one of the higher-rated prospects the Badgers signed in this senior class, but knee injuries sapped his mobility and held him out of two straight seasons of play. He was able to come back and started five games in relief of an injured Joel Stave, and kept the Badgers afloat during their stretch run to the Big Ten title game and another Rose Bowl berth. It wasn't the career many expected for him when he signed with the Badgers, but he's a great locker room player and the Badgers were glad to have him for six years.

Dezmen Southward - S
Rivals rating: 2 stars
Career stats: 51 games played, 27 starts, 143 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 4 forced fumbles, 3 INTs

Southward's first big play as a Badger came when he and Shelton Johnson ran down an Arizona State player just before halftime to keep the Sun Devils from re-taking the lead. Southward has been a dependable starter in the secondary since the 2012 season, and while I think expectations for him were a little outsized heading into this year, he and the rest of the secondary have played better as the season moved along. The Badgers haven't been able to use him the way I think they wanted to, but a solid starter is a pretty good result for a two-star recruit.

James White - RB
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 50 games, 12 starts, 618 rushes, 3,852 rushing yards, 45 TDs

White has probably had one of the quietest great careers you'll find in college football. He broke out as a true freshman, but John Clay and Montee Ball got most of the pre and post-season hype. White lost touches to Ball during his run at the Heisman Trophy in 2011, and had a quiet 12-touchdown season while Ball chased the all-time TD record. Even this year he's been overshadowed at times by Melvin Gordon, but White has been on of Wisconsin's most dependable players over the last four years. He's another guy who will get a chance to play in the NFL after his college career is over.

Brian Wozniak - TE
Rivals rating: 3 stars
Career stats: 42 games played, 17 starts, 12 catches, 111 yards, 2 TDs

Wozniak has been more of a blocking tight end for the Badgers during his career, but he has still scored two touchdowns this season and is good for a catch once in a while if a defense forgets about him. The Badgers always need their tight ends to keep their running game humming, and Wozniak has helped them a lot in that area this season.

Kyle Zuleger - S
Rivals rating: unranked
Career stats: 44 games played, 33 tackles

A walk-on from Appleton, Zuleger has played in all but two games during his four years of eligibility at Wisconsin, with most of his action coming on special teams. Zuleger also made the switch from running back to safety this spring to give the Badgers more depth in their back end of their defense.

The Badgers will also honor wide receiver Brett Arnold, former quarterback Jon Budmayr, offensive lineman Chris Gill, former wide receiver Chase Hammond, offensive lineman Jacob Ninneman and safety Jerry Ponio on senior day.

Arnold is a former manager who walked on to the team this spring, and Budmayr was forced to retire after developing a nerve issue in his throwing arm. He spent his last few years on campus as a player-coach. Gill, a Wisconsin native, joined the team this fall after playing at Ole Miss. Hammond retired this season to keep rehabbing a nagging foot injury. Ninneman played in two games for the Badgers, and Ponio played in 24 games for the Badgers on special teams.


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



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