Better Know Your Badgers: Q&A With Evan Flood

I’ve been asked several times since we started BuckAround (almost a year ago now) about the relative value of the various subscription recruiting sites.  It’s become clear to me one stands above the others. 

Badgers247.com has become my go-to site for recruiting information largely due to the work of Evan Flood.  He goes beyond asking teenagers who is “showing them love” providing insight into how Wisconsin is building their future in recruiting. 

Evan goes a long way in demonstrating why he’s so good in the Q&A below.  He demonstrates his breadth of Badger knowledge in the interview that follows.  Besides covering some of the obvious points in recruiting, Evan shares some astute observations of the new staff and how things may be different –and what will be the same - under the Andersen regime.  It’s really great stuff that’s worth a read.  In fact, Evan was so generous with his time I almost broke this up into two posts.  This is a serious Badger knowledge bomb!  Enjoy!

BuckAround: Let's start with you.  Give us a little background on yourself.  What is your relationship with Wisconsin?   How long have you been covering Badger sports? 

Evan Flood:  I’m from Stoughton, Wisconsin, which is roughly 10 minutes south of Madison. I’ve been a diehard fan of the Badgers growing up. I never really had much of a journalism background. I was always playing sports rather than writing about them.

I was originally a business major in college, before I all of a sudden switched to journalism and decided to pursue a career in the sports field. It was kind of crazy how I fell into 247sports. I had just decided to become a journalist. I was probably a couple of months in and I started my own Wisconsin recruiting blog.

It was seen by Kyle Heikkinen, who ran Badger247 before I did. I began an internship working under him, took off with it, and the rest is history. So I owe pretty much everything to him and I’m still very grateful. 247sports was my first real gig. I’ve had some opportunities to leave, but decided to stay and I’m about two and a half years in now.

BA:  What attracted you to the recruiting aspect of college athletics? What's your favorite part of covering it?  It seems pretty cutthroat between the big name services, is that the case or is that more an outsider's impression?  

EF:  I like covering college athletics, particularly recruiting, because it’s the game within the game. Recruiting coverage in my opinion takes college athletics to a whole new level, and it’s a yearlong season. So I love the fact that even though teams may not be on the field or the court, they’re still competing all the time.

The thing I like the most is just helping the young men when I get the opportunity. I do that kind of thing more with NY2LASPORTS, but when I get the chance, it feels good to help kids get exposure, which leads to scholarship offers for them. There is some stuff that bothers me about recruiting coverage that I won’t get into but in the end, I love helping these young men as much as I can and at the end of the day that’s what it’s about for me.

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I’m not sure how I would describe the competition between the three sites. Things have been fierce in the past, I’ll give you that, but that’s to be expected when you have three services vying to be the best. I’ve got respect for the other two and what they do for sure, but I want to be the “top dog.”

Things can definitely get very hectic, particularly on weekends when I’m at an AAU event and trying to run Badger247 at the same time. Those weekends, I’m at the gym from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. During the week, I like to get up early and get things going right away. I’ve been fortunate to break a couple of commitments just because I was up at 6:00 A.M. I like to stay up late as well just to make sure I don’t miss anything. The thing about recruiting is you never know when something is going to happen for the most part. The last thing you want to happen is to be surprised or caught off guard by something.

BA:  Much of the talk amongst fans seems to center around facilities, scheme, and location when figuring out the selection process for a player.  What's something that's very important to recruits but doesn't receive much attention from the general public?

EF:  I think parents get overlooked a lot in recruitments and we all (including myself) forget that they’re very much a part of this decision as well. Some recruitments more so than others, but there’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that doesn’t show up in recruiting articles.

Parents are talking to these schools just as much or even more than the prospects themselves. So they have opinions and feelings that need to be taken into consideration as well. That also ties into the fact that the public doesn’t always know which schools really want a certain prospect, which is something the parents can gauge better than the player.

You might see a prospect who’s listing 10-15 offers, but in reality, maybe half of those schools are really vying for that player and would accept a commitment throughout the entire process. I would never write which schools are for real with their offers and which ones aren’t if I’m aware of it, but that’s something that’s often overlooked.

BA: Based on your time covering the team under Bret Bielema, did the team have a player "type" that was most attractive? Was there a recurring theme in players' decision making that brought them to Madison? Based on what little you've seen so far has the "type" of player they want changed at all under Gary Andersen? Is there a different pitch used under Andersen that wasn't with Bielema?

EF:  I think Coach Bielema really valued the humble, blue collar players. He didn’t need flash in this program to win. All he really wanted was a kid that loved to play football and made more noise with his play, rather than with his mouth. After what happened with Kraig Appleton, I think he started to really value that even more, possibly even to a fault. By that I mean, not offering players, who were still quality kids, but maybe a hint of something caused him to let the player go.

When a player commits to Wisconsin, it usually has a lot to do with the game day atmosphere and the city of Madison. I would say those are the biggest selling points the Badgers have from a football standpoint. Those often seem to surprise a lot of prospects, especially those not from the Midwest.

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Physically, it seems Bielema valued the athlete a bit more. In terms of a guy who he knows can hold up at the college level. Obviously there are some exceptions like a Chris Borland. I also think Bielema recruited kids for a specific need or spot in the offense/defense.

I would say Andersen values the football player. Meaning I don’t think he’s caught up in size, speed, or potential as much. I think it boils down to can this kid play football at the next level? He also doesn’t always recruit kids for a specific spot on the field. He doesn’t always have to have a plan right now for the kid. That’s why you’re seeing a lot more offers extended as athletes, rather than running back, wide receiver, etc. He just knows he wants that player and he’ll figure out the rest later.

Also their mentalities need to be taken into consideration. Bielema was a do it yourself type of guy. So every offer that went out for the most part, likely had his approval. Andersen will be the first guy to tell you he doesn’t know something. There’s a lot more trust in his assistants in my opinion. I would venture to say the assistants are doing a lot of their own recruiting with less input than Bielema gave.

As far as recruiting pitches, Bielema seemed to draw a hard line. It was, “We’ll win with or without you. Wisconsin is the place to be.” Andersen can make that pitch too, but something I’ve noticed about him is he seems to tailor his pitch based on what he feels the recruit needs to hear. Bielema was a great seller of the football program itself as well. Andersen, we’ll see, but he also knows how sell the whole package in my opinion, not just what gets done on the field.

BA: I get the impression Andersen has been far more aggressive in offering scholarships than Bielema ever was.  Am I right? It's probably too early to tell, but is this opening doors that were closed to the Badgers in the past? Is there any risk to this new strategy?

EF:  Andersen is obviously throwing a lot more offers out there than Bielema ever did, but he has to in my opinion because he’s a first year coach. He’s trying to sell a product that has never been seen on the field yet. Commitments aren’t going to come easy for him until the season, so they really can’t afford to sit around and wait on plan A targets right now.

The drawback of offering so many kids is that it limits your ability to put together the best class possible. If you’re going to take the fifth running back on your board over your third one, obviously your class might not be as good.

They’re also trying to get into new recruiting territories like California, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia, which is also why more offers are being extended. You can’t create any inroads in these states if you don’t offer anybody.

BA:  Would you classify Andersen and his staff as "good" recruiters?  Were Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland retained for their ability to recruit.  That has to be a part of the decision with Strickland seeing as there are now 2 personnel on the staff coaching the secondary, no?

Ben Strickland.jpg

EF:  I get that question a lot and I don’t think we’ll really know until 2-3 years down the road how good Andersen and the new assistants can recruit. For Hammock and especially Strickland, I think their recruiting ability definitely had a lot to do with being retained by Andersen. Hammock has landed and won some of the bigger recruiting battles for Wisconsin since he’s been here and he doesn’t recruit an easy area. Strickland obviously has helped keep the fence around Wisconsin and lock up the majority of the in-state kids.

BA: The Badgers have been very aggressive in going after players in Georgia.  What is success there both for 2014 and longer term? Bielema mentioned in a recent interview that there were more players recruited out of Georgia in the SEC than any other state. Do you feel Wisconsin is a big enough brand to be successful there?

EF:  Georgia, I think needs to be looked at the same way as Florida was when Bret Bielema and Charlie Partridge were working it. There’s a lot of talent and not all of it is going to stay in the south. Only I think Georgia will have more upside for Wisconsin in terms of the amount of player they land over time.

Wisconsin is going to take a couple kids from Georgia in 2014. There’s no doubt about that to me anyway. Coach Hammock is determined to get these kids up here this summer and then put on the full court press. They all might be under the radar kids that Wisconsin takes, but it’s a start nonetheless. The thing about Georgia is there’s a lot more kids flying under the radar than in Florida. So Wisconsin sees this as an opportunity to steal some kids from the SEC without them knowing it and I know they feel they’ve identified a couple of those guys already.

Now is Wisconsin going to take kids from Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia or whoever? See the results the Florida. They’ve come close. There’s always the potential to snag a big time recruit, but it’s never going to happen consistently down there.

BA:  Given Wisconsin's lack of depth at wide receiver position, are there any big-time targets the staff is after to play right away? It seems as though Wisconsin WRs in general are average at best with a few exceptions. Is this more due bad evaluation in recruiting or more a case that it's hard to convince players to come to a school known primarily for running the ball?

EF:  I would say just about every wide receiver they’ve offered has been told they could potentially play right away. Wisconsin has never had big success recruiting big time wide receivers. First off, you have to throw the ball a lot to land these kids. Second, you need to put have wide receivers drafted in the first round or two of the NFL draft pretty consistently.

The Badgers have had some good wide receivers and I think their success at this position has been greatly overlooked, but when you think of the top receiver schools, Wisconsin isn’t close to the top. So they’ve always struggled to recruit that position and in my opinion it’s because of the offense they’ve ran. Catching the ball is much more appealing than blocking. It’s pretty simple.

BA:  Russell Wilson was one of the top quarterbacks in the country in his one season at Wisconsin. Many thought Wisconsin could attract a dual-threat QB like Wilson after that but that hasn't happened yet. Why do you think that is? Given Chuckie Keeton's success at Utah State, is Wisconsin committed to bringing in a QB that fits that style of play?

EF:  Well I wouldn’t say they haven’t attracted any dual-threat quarterbacks. Tanner McEvoy is a dual-threat quarterback, which Wisconsin signed in 2013 [Ed. Note – I was clearly sleeping when I wrote this question, sorry!]. They’ve also come close to a couple other guys since Wilson left Madison.

I don’t think the Badgers have been able to commit to recruiting a dual-threat quarterback. They had less than a year after Wilson left and had Bielema not bolted for Arkansas, they would have gotten Damon Mitchell. That was essentially a done deal.

I don’t think Gary Andersen is committed to taking a dual-threat guy. Guys like Kyle Allen and Austin Kafentzis are certainly not dual-threat. But based on who the staff is currently evaluated and have offered in the past, there will be more dual-threat guys than there ever were under Bielema.

BA:  One last one on recruiting: is it me or is there a whole lot of overlap with Arkansas this year that was never there in the past?  Is this due to the Badgers going after new parts of the country or simply the staff at Arkansas taking some of the knowledge they had of the '14 class with them when they left Madison?

EF:  Well both schools want to recruit Georgia and Florida. So we’ll see a lot of battles there. Then you have to consider there were a lot of guys from all over the country that Bielema carried over from his recruiting board at Wisconsin to Arkansas. So you’re seeing him recruit a lot of guys in the Midwest and out West that Wisconsin is in on too. 

Just because Bielema left, doesn’t take the kid off of Wisconsin’s board necessarily. So it’s a combination of both. But I think we’ll see less of that in 2015. Watch out for one of Arkansas’ 2014 commits. The Badgers may be looking to poach one from Bielema soon I’m hearing

BA:  What's your take on the new staff as a whole.  Coverage has been VERY favorable thus far.  In your judgment are they "better" thus far?  Fan expectations are definitely building based on what they've seen in the off season.  Are they setting themselves up for disappointment?

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EF:  Wisconsin is getting just what they expected right now. Starting with the head coach Gary Andersen, he really is a player’s coach that everybody wants to play for. However he hasn’t coached a game yet. Everything should be favorable right now. I don’t think we can really judge anything he’s done. We’ll just see if his practice mentality and off the field efforts turn into wins.

Looking around the nation, expectations are always high with a new coach. Look at Kentucky for instance. They seem to think they’re an SEC power all of a sudden.

It’s tough to say if fans are setting themselves up for disappointment for two reasons. First, the Badgers have an easy 2013 schedule. They could run the table or drop just 1-2 games all season. Second, they haven’t played a game.

My advice to fans would be wait until after the first couple games before making any judgments. We’ve seen spring practice, but it’s impossible to say how Wisconsin stacks up nationally right now.

BA:  There hasn't been much talk of transfer QB Tanner McEvoy lately except to say he'll be given a fair opportunity to win the job in the fall. Do you have any further insight into McEvoy's level of play? Should he be considered the odds on favorite to win it given the circumstances of his arrival on campus? If not, who do you see winning that competition?

EF:  Yeah I have a little insight into how things could play out this fall. McEvoy is a heck of an athlete. He could play wide receiver at the D1 level I believe. He won’t at Wisconsin, but that’s just the type of player he is. He will get a shot to win the starting job and he might be the front runner. Knowing what Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig like to do with quarterbacks, they want a guy like McEvoy who’s a better fit for their style of offense.

Is McEvoy the odds-on favorite to start this fall?

Is McEvoy the odds-on favorite to start this fall?

Right now, Ludwig hasn’t really been running the stuff he wants to because he doesn’t have the quarterback to match his style. So the offense is going to look different if McEvoy wins the job. I don’t know if he’s the favorite, but his chances are as good as anyone.

Joel Stave is going to be a very good quarterback in my opinion and has a lot of tools the other quarterbacks don’t have. In the end, I’m still going to go with Stave. He’s not the perfect fit, but he’s too good and has too good of an upside in my opinion. We know Stave can read and pick apart a defense. We don’t know that about McEvoy right now.

BA:  If there's one given in Wisconsin football, it's the long-standing tradition of strong offensive linemen.  How are the linemen adjusting to Coach TJ Woods' scheme? Do you see 2013 as a bounce back year?

EF:  Wisconsin is thin on the offensive line right now. They’re a little younger than normal as well, but this group has good potential. They struggled a bit in the spring. I don’t think it was adjusting to a new style though. From what I’ve seen, Coach Woods is pretty similar to Bart Miller and Bob Bostad. They’ve struggled to handle all of the looks Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda throws at them. But in the end, that will only make them better.

This offensive line is also very versatile, which could and likely will pay dividends down the road. Again, tough to say if this is a bounce back year for the line. I think the talent level is a little lower than it was in 2012. I would expect similar results. Good, not great.

BA:  Wisconsin's schedule breaks very favorably this season. They get Northwestern at home and have only one real road test against Ohio State. The only other tough matchup appears to be Arizona State. Given that, do you see this team winning less than 9-10 games in the regular season?  What about this team has you most worried? Is there as issue with this team that you don't see getting a lot of attention? 

EF:  If this team won less than 10 games, I think it would be a disappointment. They have too much returning and too favorable of a schedule not to be in the BCS discussion.

What worries me the most is the wide receivers. Wisconsin never found a consistent No. 2 option alongside Jared Abbrederis and it hurt them time after time in 2012. Kenzel Doe looks like he could break out, but he has to prove it when it counts. Jordan Fredrick has always been solid, but needs to find ways to get more production in games outside of his blocking. Wisconsin wants to throw the ball more, but they can’t throw it to Abbrderis every time. With the way this team can run the ball, having at least two good weapons at receiver would make this offense very explosive.

An issue that doesn’t get a lot of attention in my opinion is the loss of David Gilbert. He was Wisconsin’s best pass rusher last season and now they don’t have anything like him on the line. In a 3-4 defense, the Badgers can find different ways to rush the passer, but that kind of takes Chris Borland out of what he does best as well. I know he’s moved to middle linebacker, but even last year you saw Wisconsin dial up some packages for him. I haven’t see much of that, if at all in practice, because the Badgers rely on other spots to mainly apply pressure, particularly on the outside. So that might be something to watch during the season, if guys like Brendan Kelly, Vince Biegel, and others struggle to get to the quarterback in their new roles.

Evan Flood is the Wisconsin Insider for Badgers247.  He does amazing work.  Do me a favor and go subscribe.  Tell him this interview did it.  He was insanely generous with his time and I’d love to get the guy a subscription for all this.