Isaac Townsend’s wish list for a new school was short and sweet.
He needed what he believed to be a good opportunity on the football field, a program with a track record of developing players, and a culture that fit him. He found all three of those in the University of Wisconsin.
Townsend — a three-star recruit out of Ralston Valley High School in Colorado — is a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Oregon who will have four years of eligibility remaining at UW. The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder didn’t see the field in two seasons with the Ducks, but he’s an intriguing addition for UW at a position that lost two multi-year starters this offseason.
“Talking to Coach K (Ross Kolodziej), the new D-line coach, and coach (Jim) Leonhard (UW’s defensive coordinator), we had a very honest conversation,” Townsend said. “There’s just only facts being talked about. I know that they both have really respected careers for developing people and just knowing the game. And so we talked about that. The opportunity there, and then along with the school, just thought it was my best option. My best decision to make.”
After joining Oregon’s 2019 recruiting class, Townsend had trouble finding a spot to fit in on the Ducks’ defense, and coaches tried him both on the defensive line and as a stand-up outside linebacker in certain packages.
Oregon also added five-star end Kayvon Thibodeaux in the 2019 class, and he’s been a fixture since earning a starting role midway through he and Townsend’s first season. Between an emerging star, a change in defensive coordinators and a veteran group of D-linemen, Townsend said finding a spot that fit his skills became even tougher.
He’s ready for a fresh start with the Badgers, whose coaches have told him he’ll be a defensive lineman and won’t be caught in between positions.
“(Leonhard) painted me a really clear picture of what I’ll be doing in his defense, what he saw for me,” Townsend said. “His career and what he’s known for doing and developing players, that was a big deal to me.
“There’s a great culture there.”
It’s easy to see potential in Townsend’s high school tape. He shows quickness off the line and his combination of height and arm length help him shed blockers. Oregon coaches mentioned him during training camp this season as a player starting to flash his ability as a rusher.
A question following Townsend since reaching the college level was his ability to carry more weight to play on the defensive line — UW’s defensive ends’ average weight last season was just under 284 pounds. He said he’s focusing his workouts on adding muscle, but isn’t intending on adding bulk weight yet.
“I want to stay as lean as I can, but still put on some muscle, of course. So we’ll see how my body grows with that. But I think I’ve done a decent job on that. No one is crazy concerned about my weight,” he said.
Dipping into the transfer portal is a rarity for UW, with just two transferred-in players on last year’s roster. However, in December, UW’s director of player personnel Saeed Khalif hinted that defensive line could be a position at which the Badgers seek to bring in a transfer this offseason.
“You really can’t identify that lineman that early because his body needs to develop to know that he’s going to be able to carry the weight,” Khalif said.
Townsend just completed his final quarter at Oregon and will be training and working at home until he can come to Madison, which he is planning to do in May. He steps into a position group that lost reliable starters Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand this offseason. Loudermilk left for a chance at the NFL and Rand stepped away from the game due to injuries. Junior Matt Henningsen is returning after an elbow injury cut his 2020 season short and sophomore Isaiah Mullens could be pushing for a starting role after playing in 20 of the team’s past 21 games.
Leonhard has shown he’ll rotate defensive ends if more than two earn reps, so Townsend has a chance to make his collegiate debut this season for UW.
He said he’s enjoyed the warm reception he’s gotten from Badgers fans on social media since announcing his transfer last week and he’s excited to get to know his teammates when he arrives. While his first college stop didn’t go as planned, he’s ready to make the most of his chance at UW.
“I think I’ve grown a lot in a lot of different ways,” Townsend said.
“Obviously, just developing as a player and as a student, but also … as a person. I think I’ve learned a lot of lessons that people learn later on in their life, I think I’ve learned them now. So I think that’ll help me going into a new place, a new program and trying to make a name for myself.”
Get to know the Badgers’ 2021 recruiting class