Badgers build big lead with Watkins

Galion, Ohio's Dareian Watkins stepped away from his Northwestern commitment earlier this week. Now, the four-star athlete has his sights set on another Big Ten program.
The catalyst to this week's de-commitment from Northwestern was an unofficial visit to Wisconsin this past Saturday with teammate Cario Davison. Watkins' father, Heath, said the course of action became apparent after returning from Madison.
"Prior to going to Wisconsin Dareian had felt maybe he had made his decision a little too early," Heath Watkins said. "Then he got to Wisconsin and absolutely loved it. That reaffirmed to Dareian he made his decision too soon."
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald connected with Watkins after his trip to Wisconsin to gauge the strength of that commitment. His desire to take other visits ultimately led to both parties deciding to part ways amicably.
"It was a really positive conversation between the two of them, outside of the fact that he is no longer going to Northwestern," Heath Watkins said. "Coach Fitzgerald was completely honest, and Dareian was too. He wants to take visits, and that doesn't coincide with the policy they have at Northwestern."
In the immediate aftermath of the de-commitment, Wisconsin has surged to a large lead over other potential contenders on the strength of last weekend's unofficial visit.
"He absolutely loved it there," Heath Watkins said of Wisconsin. "We had been there a couple times over the past few years and he loved it then, but with all the coaching changes they had it was never a good fit from the standpoint of building rapport with coaching staffs.
"Then, Coach [Chris] Beatty from Illinois was hired at Wisconsin to be the wide receivers coach, and our whole family has a really strong relationship with Coach Beatty. We really liked him a lot and thought the world of him at Illinois, so when he got to Wisconsin that was a perfect fit."
Watkins' father was on the phone with Beatty and head coach Gary Andersen Friday morning, planning the next trip to Madison. They have decided on an official visit the weekend of Nov. 30, when the Badgers are set to host Penn State in their regular season finale.
Whether other schools will be part of the conversation is yet to be determined, but several programs have made contact in recent days and there is some interest on Watkins' part.
"It has picked up from a lot of schools," Heath Watkins confirmed. "The one school Dareian has shown a little bit of interest in and maybe wants to visit is Vanderbilt. In our view, they are kind of the Northwestern of the SEC.
"I think in order for Dareian to schedule an official visit somewhere it is going to have to be a school he sees some kind of a special connection with. With Vanderbilt, it is the fact that it is the top academic school in the SEC."
Conversations with Tennessee have also taken place in the last week, and Oregon would be a team of interest if the Ducks decided to reach out, but undoubtedly Wisconsin is in the driver's seat heading into next weekend's official visit.