Steve Carson had been through the college football recruiting mill enough to know a top-level Division I athlete when he saw one. Carson, the head coach at Independence (Kan.) Community College, knew safety T.J. Reynard fit such a bill.
So while Reynard sweated out scholarship offers from lesser D-I schools following his freshman season at Independence, Carson offered some helpful advice: Relax. You have another year of junior college ball. The offers from big-time programs will come.
“I said, ‘Look, just wait and you’ll get something good. Don’t worry about it'” Carson told FOXSportsWisconsin.com by phone. “We talked quite a bit about it, and I told him to just hang in there. After spring ball, a lot of teams came back and started looking again.”
Among those teams was the University of Wisconsin, which last week snatched up Reynard to fill a void in the Badgers secondary. Carson’s wait-and-see advice paid off in a big way, even if it came sooner than he expected for one of his standout players.
“I was kind of hoping next winter he’d get the offers, but that’s the way it is,” said Carson, who coached defensive backs at Wisconsin in 1985 under Dave McClain and in 1986 under Jim Hilles. Carson also has coached at Montana State, East Tennessee State, Rutgers, Liberty and for NFL Europe.
Reynard came to Kansas from Greenbrier Christian in Chesapeake, Va., after being recruited by Independence Community College defensive coordinator Aaron DeBerry, who played high school football in Virginia. Carson said Reynard qualified academically for four-year colleges but didn’t receive the scholarship offers he wanted, so he opted to attend junior college.
Carson noted Reynard entered fall camp as a cornerback, but coaches quickly moved him to safety. The team already had two older cornerbacks who had established themselves, and Reynard’s athleticism and talent made him stand out.
“He had an outstanding preseason camp and we said, ‘Jeez we’ve got to get the kid on the field,'” Carson said. “Of course everything just took off from there. He was kind of really not on everybody’s radar screen because he wasn’t really high on our list in terms of guys coming in.”
In his one season at Independence, Reynard, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound defensive back, ranked 18th among junior college players in total tackles (88) and 13th in solo tackles (56). And when college teams finished spring practices in April, they began targeting Reynard as a hot prospect.
Carson said Badgers assistant coach Bill Busch called him and said he was looking for a cornerback to fill out Wisconsin’s 2013 roster. The Badgers had already added junior college transfer Donnell Vercher at safety in the first recruiting class under new coach Gary Andersen.
Carson informed Busch that Colorado had already begun actively recruiting Reynard, who visited the school two weeks earlier, and that Wisconsin would need to act fast if it wanted him.
“They got back to me right away and said, ‘Hey we like the kid,'” Carson said. “I said, ‘All right. Go ahead and recruit him if you guys want him.’ It worked out good for the kid.”
Last week, Reynard told his hometown paper, the Virginian-Pilot, one of his reasons for picking Wisconsin was the opportunity to play right away. Redshirt sophomore Darius Hillary and redshirt junior Peniel Jean were in line to be Wisconsin’s starting cornerbacks following spring practices. But Reynard, who has three years of eligibility remaining, will certainly alter that mix. Vercher is expected to pair with Dezmen Southward as starting safeties.
“They are implementing a new defense and they feel I can fill that void with my tackling ability, physicality and also my athleticism,” Reynard told the Virginian-Pilot.
Carson noted Reynard had a step up because he had already faced considerable competition in his one season of junior college ball. Roughly four-dozen players from the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference had signed with FBS teams this year, according to Carson.
“You don’t bring TJ in to sit on the bench,” Carson said. “He is an excellent tackler, which sometimes in the secondary gets to be overlooked. Everybody talks about cover corners and all that stuff. He’s got excellent speed, good hips. I think he can play corner, safety if he puts more weight on. I see him as a corner and a nickel type guy at worst.”
Although Wisconsin wasn’t actively looking for Reynard just a few months ago, Carson believes the Badgers have landed a solid player in their secondary for the next three years.
“Sometimes that happens in recruiting,” Carson said. “You don’t even know about a guy and all of a sudden it kind of drops into their lap. Wisconsin was really great about the recruiting process. They handled it first class. They said, ‘We want to know if we can have permission to do it’ since they knew he was coming back. So they went through the proper channels and did it correctly, so I appreciated that.”