Jake Chaney has been surrounded by football throughout his life.
His father, James, is a former defensive lineman at Florida State and his coach at Lehigh Senior High School in Lehigh Acres, Fla. His older brother, Bud, plays defensive back for The Citadel. His uncle played at Florida International and his grandfather played at Virginia State.
“We’re a football family,” Chaney said.
When he grew taller and added weight before his junior football season, carrying on the family tradition of playing NCAA Division I football became more of an eventuality than a wish.
The 2021 University of Wisconsin recruit said Thursday that having a group of men who had walked the path before guiding him on his journey helped him find the right school and football program to join.
“I’m thankful for it. They helped me a lot. They helped with school a lot, taught me things. When I fell down, they helped me back up,” Chaney said of his family. “I’m very grateful for them.”
The Badgers were one of the first D-I teams to start heavily recruiting Chaney, who put together a strong junior season. His 100 tackles helped him earn District 7A player of the year honors, and college interest started to pour in. He visited the Badgers in late November and watched the team’s 45-24 win over Purdue at Camp Randall Stadium.
When he committed to UW, Chaney reportedly had 10 offers, which included Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana.
Chaney was able to decide on UW after having a set of spring visits cancelled due to the NCAA’s temporary ban on in-person recruiting due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The ban will be reassessed on April 15, but Chaney said he took a few days to think and pray about his choice.
UW’s early foot in the door and the direct involvement of Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard helped Chaney know how serious the Badgers were.
“When they offered me, I definitely wanted to go,” he said. “(The offer) was a great moment. Jim Leonhard had come to the school and talked to me. When I went home that day, he gave me a phone call and said I had an offer. It felt great.”
Despite being in their state, Chaney didn’t get offers from Miami, Florida, or Florida State — something he says will add some extra fuel to his fire his senior season.
“It kind of motivates me a little bit,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is what it is. When I play against those Florida guys (next season), I’ll have a little bit more to play for.”
James Chaney said Jake learned the intricacies of playing linebacker as a sophomore when he didn't have the size to overpower opponents.
"Jake understands technique. He understands how to play the position," James said. "I'm not saying he's perfect right now, but he understands how to scrape, he understands how to attack, he understands where the play direction is going. He understands how to watch him. Those are the things that've really helped him play faster. He doesn't just line up and out-athlete everybody, he really, seriously studies the position."
Because of his size — 6-foot, 200 pounds — and the way he hits as an 3-4 inside linebacker, Chaney is already drawing comparisons to Chris Orr, the senior linebacker who graduated from UW this year.
After being a reserve behind the likes of now-NFL linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, Orr is on his way to the NFL after a senior year in which he had 78 tackles, 11½ sacks and five pass breakups. Chaney said he understands the comparisons, and knows the impact Orr had in the locker room, something he saw up close when he visited.
“It’s a great comparison. But at the end of the day, I want to be my own person, build my own legacy at UW. Even though he’s a great player and it’s a great comparison, and it’s a lot to try to step into those shoes, I’m going to be my own player,” he said.
Chaney said he’s not sure if his path will follow Orr’s toward a chance in the NFL, but he does want to mimic Orr’s work as a student. Orr earned his master’s degree in December, something Chaney said he may consider.
“I don’t really see it as my goal to get to the NFL. I just want to get my degree, have my education paid for,” he said. “When I went on a visit, they showed me Jonathan Taylor had gotten his degree in three years. They said if I redshirted, there’s a strong possibility I could get my master’s. That swayed me a lot.”
Chaney said UW’s academic prospects were more influential than its recent run of success with linebackers making their way to the NFL.
With his recruiting over, Chaney can focus on his final high school season. Preparing for that year has been altered significantly during novel coronavirus shutdowns, as gyms and other businesses have closed. Chaney’s track season is also in jeopardy.
But he said he’s finding ways to train and is ready to lead a young team next season at Lehigh, which won a district championship last season.
“Everybody can get stronger and faster. I want to improve my pass drops, really every facet of my game,” he said. “Even though we won our district championship, we lost a lot of games, I’d like to improve on that. But it’s kind of great having a successful high school career and being able to play at the next level.”
Chaney will turn 17 in August, meaning he'll have just turned 18 when the Badgers start fall camp in 2021. James said he wants to see his son continue to mature as a leader and continue developing his skills.
"Physically, he can do it on the high school level," James said. "I want him to become more of a leader and take the young kids under his wing, set a great example. I want the kids to know and see the example Jake sets as far as hard work and doing things while nobody is watching to get him to the level he is now."
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2021 football recruiting class
JP Benzschawel, an offensive lineman out of Grafton, was the first recruit in the Badgers’ 2021 class, continuing the family tradition at UW.
Benzschawel’s brothers, Beau (2015-18) and Luke (2016-19) played offensive line and tight end, respectively, for the Badgers. His father, Scott (1983-87) and uncle Eric (1988-92) also played football for UW.
Benzschawel is one of the top-ranked offensive tackles in the country. A four-star recruit on 247sports, and ESPN, and a three-star on Rivals, Benzschawel is a top-200 recruit nationally by 247sports and ESPN.
Jackson Acker, a running back from Verona, committed to the Badgers soon after receiving an offer in June 2019.
UW was Acker’s first scholarship offer after his sophomore season, but he used it as momentum for a strong junior campaign at Verona High School. He was a first-team running back on the Wisconsin State Journal’s All-Area team, rushing for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
Acker is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Deacon Hill, a quarterback from Santa Barbara, Calif., committed to the Badgers in July 2019.
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound, pro-style prospect, Hill was part of wave of recruiting commitments for UW. Hill turned down offers from Kansas State and Nevada in favor of the Badgers.
Hill turned heads at an Elite 11 regional camp in California with his big arm and deep throws. He is the lone quarterback thus far in the 2021 class, and the 2020 class added just one in walk-on Daniel Wright.
Hill is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Loyal Crawford, a running back from Eau Claire, Wis., committed to the Badgers in August 2019.
A fast, shifty and explosive back, Crawford was limited to five games as a junior due to injury. Still, he tallied 671 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in that span. He was one of the first freshmen to suit up for a varsity game at Eau Claire Memorial High School.
Crawford — listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds — is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
UW’s scholarship offer the first Division I offer Crawford had received, according to multiple outlets.
Riley Mahlman, an offensive lineman from Lakeville, Minn., committed to the Badgers after watching them defeat Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in September 2019.
Mahlman is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247sports and ESPN, and a three-star by Rivals. He’s ranked as the top recruit in the state of Minnesota by 247sports and ESPN, and the No. 2 Minnesota product by Rivals. UW beat out Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Florida and others for Mahlman.
With Mahlman and 2020 linebacker Kaden Johnson, the Badgers secured the top-ranked recruit out of Minnesota in consecutive years.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tackle also played tight end for Lakeville South High School.
Bryan Sanborn, an inside linebacker from Lake Zurich, Ill., committed to UW in December 2019.
Sanborn, the younger brother of Badgers inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect had a handful of Power Five offers, including Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Bryan’s late father, Paul, played football at Oregon.
Ayo Adebogun, a linebacker/defensive end hailing from Mequon, committed to the Badgers in December 2019.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was a second-team all-state selection by the Wisconsin Associated Press as a junior, a season in which he tallied 16 sacks and 75 total tackles.
The Homestead High School product is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Hunter Wohler, a safety out of Muskego, orally committed to UW just before Christmas 2019.
Rated by multiple recruiting sites as the best or second-best prospect in Wisconsin in his class, Wohler helped Muskego to an unbeaten record and a WIAA Division I state championship as a junior. Wohler had 122 total tackles and two interceptions as a junior, and he was named the state’s Associated Press' player of the year.
Wohler — listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds — is rated as a four-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals, and ESPN. He’s ranked as the No. 298 overall prospect in the 2021 class by ESPN.
Jake Chaney, a linebacker out of Lehigh Acres, Fla., committed to the Badgers in March 2020.
The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect is a three-star recruit according to 247sports and Rivals.
He was the District 7A player of the year last season after recording 100 tackles as a junior. Jake Chaney’s father, James, is his coach at Lehigh Senior High School and played at Florida State from 1988-1991.
Chaney was the third linebacker and ninth overall recruit in the 2021 class.