Stephanie Pitzen contributed
You could say it all started with Zach Hampton back in 2002, when he decided to fulfill a childhood dream of playing football for the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Lancaster native essentially paved the way for other prep football standouts in southwest Wisconsin when he accepted an offer to join the Badgers as a preferred walk-on.
Through hard work and determination, Hampton found his way onto the field as a special teams player and eventually earned a coveted football scholarship at UW.
Since Hampton walked on at Wisconsin in 2002, a number of other standouts in the area have followed in his footsteps.
There was Luke Swan of Fennimore, Zach's brother Adam from Lancaster, and Bradie Ewing of Richland Center.
You can now add three more names to the list of southwest Wisconsin prep standouts, taking advantage of their preferred walk-on status at UW.
Just last week, University of Wisconsin football coach Brett Bielema announced his recruiting class of 2012, along with his list of seven preferred walk ons.
Of those seven players invited to walk on, three of them played high school football in southwest Wisconsin.
At 6'6", 266 pounds, Cuba City's Trent Denlinger certainly has the size to play college football.
He was named the SWAL Lineman of the Year following his senior season, where he played on the offensive and defensive lines.
At defensive end, Denlinger was named to the All-State honorable-mention team, following a senior season where he recorded 56 tackles, as well as nine sacks, five tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception.
As a junior, he was a first-team all-conference selection on both sides of the ball. On defense he had 84 total tackles, six sacks and one interception.
Growing up, Denlinger was a multi-sport athlete playing football, baseball and basketball. Basketball was a long season, therefore Denlinger focused much of his time on that sport, but he never really had a favorite sport and whatever season it was, Denlinger was happy.
Denlinger knew he wanted to play either basketball or football in college, but once he went to the Wisconsin Badger camp last summer and received a preferred walk-on status, his mind was made up. "I knew what I wanted to do and it was to play football for the Badgers," Denlinger said. "I started attending the Badgers home games this year and that was where I received a good insight into the program and how they run things up there. I liked it, so when they offered me an official visit I took it and then offered me a preferred walk on offer."
A preferred walk-on status at Wisconsin means a player is a recruited non-scholarship student-athlete who can earn a scholarship later in their career.
For Denlinger, parental influence and support has helped shape who he is today. "My parents were a big influence on my life, by helping drive me everywhere I needed to go when I was younger and making sure I was there on time," Denlinger said. "My grandma also has been a big part in my life especially making me work hard on my academics and keeping me humble throughout my life. My coaches were also a huge part in my life especially Pete Murphy who is always pushing me to go harder and was a good lifting buddy in the weight room along with Coach (Guy) Kopp and all of my coaches who have developed me as a player.
Kopp said it is an opportunity of a lifetime for Denlinger. "To be able to walk on at a caliber of a program like Wisconsin says a lot about our athletes at Cuba City as a whole," Kopp said. "It tells our kids that no matter where you play football, if you are good enough and work hard at it, colleges will take note and find you."
Denlinger knows his athletic ability is what got him where he is at this point but he also stresses the importance of academics. "Having good grades means everything because it will be very hard to make it through school if you don't do well in your classes," Denlinger said. "If I could a piece of advice to the young kids in the area it would be to study hard and get good grades in school because that will get you really far in life."
Denlinger is to report to the Badgers on June 18 and will take with him the work ethic instilled in him by his father. "It was always a dream to play football in college especially for Wisconsin so it's something I had been working towards," Denlinger said. "I am really excited about getting up to Madison this summer and getting to know my teammates and starting my training."
Other walk-ons from the area includes Darlington quarterback, Alex Erickson who will join the team as a wide receiver and may move to the defense side of the ball. Richland Center defensive end, Logan Schmidt also joins Denlinger and Erickson for the 2012 recruiting class.
There is little doubt this year's class of walk ons from southwest Wisconsin will do their best to gain the attention of head coach Brett Bielema in the coming years.
As a former walk on at Iowa, Bielema has been known to posses a soft spot for walk ons, as long as they put in their time.
Guy Kopp- It's an opportunity of a lifetome for anyone, to be able to earn a walk on spot
it says a lot about athletes at Cuba City as a whole. You have two D1 athletes going on to the college level next year, one to wrestle and one to play football. I think it says a lot about our program here at Cuba City. No matter where you play football, colleges will find you if you are good enough and put the time in.