College football’s first try at an early signing period begins this week, when prospects in the 2018 class can sign a Letter of Intent to the school of their choice between Wednesday and Friday rather than waiting until February to do so.
As University of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said earlier this month and in previous interviews, no one quite knows what to expect, exactly how the new procedure will affect the next six weeks or what unintended consequences could arise down the road.
For the Badgers, however, signing commitments early seems to make plenty of sense.
"I think we’re all going through this for the first time,” Chryst said. "I think it’s always important when you go out and you recruit a class, and you feel certainly good and excited about the group that you have joining — when they sign, it’s officially done."
That early finality appears as if it will greatly benefit the Badgers this week. All 19 known commitments in UW’s 2018 class are expected to sign this week, according to either the prospect himself or those close to him.
They are safety Reggie Pearson, outside linebacker Mason Platter, defensive ends Boyd Dietzen and Isaiah Mullens, inside linebackers C.J. Goetz and Jack Sanborn, offensive lineman Michael Furtney, quarterback Chase Wolf, athletes Cormac Sampson, Aron Cruickshank and Jaylan Franklin, cornerbacks Donte Burton, Alexander Smith and Travian Blaylock, wide receivers Taj Mustapha, AJ Abbott and Isaac Guerendo, defensive tackle Bryson Williams and running back Nakia Watson.
Pearson, Cruickshank, Burton, Mustapha and Williams are excepted to enroll early in January. Even for the other 14 that don’t, their decision to sign early allows UW the clarity it needs to either finish out the 2018 class in the coming weeks or gain a massive head start on the 2019 class, which the Badgers have already filled with five commitments.
For Chryst, the early signing period has allowed his coaching staff and his commitments to both stay true to their word, and doing so could continue to benefit a program like UW that typically gets much of its recruiting business done early.
“For the schools that offered, that means the scholarship is real that day, and then the commitment is real,” Chryst said. "You want to stay true to that."
UW likely won’t add many, if any, more prospects to its 2018 class between now and National Signing Day on Feb. 7.
The Badgers did, however, recently offer Butler Community College linebacker Will Honas, per reports. Honas ranks as the top junior college inside linebacker in the country, according to 247sports’ composite rankings.
The late offer could be related to the potential departure of current UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, although the junior said Tuesday that he has not made a decision yet on whether he will forgo his final year with the Badgers to enter the NFL Draft.
“I’m still waiting to get information back and still weighing all my options,” Edwards said. "I’ve still got to talk to my family and everything about it. I’m just having fun being out here with the guys. There’s still time left to make that final decision, so when the time comes, I’ll make that decision. ... It would definitely have to be some good feedback (to leave)."
Even with just 19 commitments, the Badgers’ class currently ranks 31st by Rivals and 34th by 247sports, and practically the entire class may become official this week.
Some coaches have publicly opposed the early signing period. Staffs have less time in December to finalize a class during bowl or playoff preparations, and coaching changes can disrupt recruiting just as kids are about to sign.
UW benefits from having a group of prospects who were hard commitments for a long period of time and are now ready to make their long-standing decision final. Of the Badgers’ 19 commitments, 18 pledged to UW by early July.
"I think it could be beneficial for anybody,” UW offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. "I think if you’re really doing a good job of being honest and recruiting good football players and good kids, and I think on the flip side, if the guys that you’re recruiting are really honest and working with you, then I think it’s pretty simple. I think it makes sense.
"If you’re not, then it could be more interesting, and then I could see wanting more time to figure things out. In that respect, I think it’s a good thing for us."