Jake Chaney photo

Jake Chaney, left, poses with Chris Orr in the Badgers locker room before UW's game against Purdue in November 2019. Chaney is already drawing comparisons to Orr because of his size and hard-hitting style of play. 

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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

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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