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UW FOOTBALL

A look inside an official visit for a Wisconsin football recruit

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Multiple tours, many meetings, plenty of food and a laid-back dinner at coach Paul Chryst’s house. That’s just some of what recruits and their families have experienced during a University of Wisconsin football official visit.

The Badgers kicked off a busy month of welcoming high school prospects to Madison for official visits last weekend. The program plans to welcome nearly two dozen recruits to Madison during the month of June for official visits. This is a key time for the football program to sell players and their families on what the program can provide in the coming years.

The State Journal spoke with eight sets of parents of current UW players and recruits who took official visits during the summers between 2018 and 2022 to better understand what takes place during an official visit. Their recollections paint a picture of how the Badgers have presented their program to recruits in recent years.

Warm hospitality

All stayed at The Edgewater Hotel, located just northeast of campus. The well-known hotel, which sits on the edge of Lake Mendota, also hosted a dinner on one of the nights.

Miranda Jones, mother of freshman defensive back Avyonne Jones, remembered a warm welcome upon arrival last summer.

“When you get there, they have hot cheese curds and food, and it’s a great spread on the bed,” she said. “Like all things Wisconsin that represents the program from their sponsors and the community. So the whole room is just decked out basically in red when you get there.”

Stacy Rucci, mother of tight end Hayden Rucci and offensive lineman Nolan Rucci, fondly remembered a gathering atop The Edgewater.

“You see the water on one side and the Capitol building on the other,” she said. “The weather was awesome when we were here, so it was pretty awesome.”

Current Badgers act as hosts to recruits while the parents get an opportunity to socialize. Logan Bruss hosted Joe Tippmann during the summer of 2018, and Tippmann has acted in that role a few times since arriving at UW.

Matt Henningsen hosted Cade McDonald during his official visit in June 2019, and quarterback Deacon Hill did the same for Myles Burkett last year.

“The initial night, Matt and Cade just went out,” Branden McDonald, Cade’s father, said. “He showed him, ‘OK, here’s some dorms, but this is also where I live now,’ in a house or apartment. Matt lived in a great place, and then they went to some of the houses, and Cade really got a feel for other than football life, this is kind of how it is.”

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Riley Mahlman hosted James Durand, UW’s second commit of the 2023 class, last weekend. Durand, the three-star recruit, also spent significant time with current Badgers in his future position group.

“I think as already being committed, their offensive line group is so tight,” Durand said, “so I think they really took me in as one of their own and kind of showed me what it’s going to be like when I get there. So that probably stood out to me the most, and we spent a lot of time together as a unit.”

Tours and meetings

2022 UW athlete Cade Yacamelli with coach Paul Chryst

Cade Yacamelli standing with UW head coach Paul Chryst during Yacamelli's official visit in June 2021.

Numerous tours and meetings, football and non-football related, fill up the days recruits are in town as UW tries to maximize each hour with the limited time it gets to spend with the potential future Badgers.

“Everything was first class, as you would expect,” Kerry Yacamelli, father of incoming athlete Cade Yacamelli, said about last year’s visit. “Campus tour in the bus and just everything. Explained everything from not just football, but academics to the health of the student-athletes to expectations.

“We actually met with the new athletic director (Chris McIntosh) at that time. He spoke to the parents. We met with advisors. They touched every part of it that you could possibly touch.”

Meetings with assistants take place, along with one-on-ones with Chryst. Terrence Burkett, father of Myles, remembered how former UW assistant Joe Rudolph showed UW’s offense in one meeting. The staff intertwined a throw by Myles into a video to demonstrate how he would fit into UW’s scheme.

One particular meeting that stood out to a few parents involved the current players answering questions in a panel-like setting without the coaching staff present.

“We as parents, we dared greatly,” Miranda Jones said. “We asked a lot of bold questions because many of us have been through this before, and we know sometimes one thing is being said to you, but what the athlete experiences is different.

“There were just some personal testimonials given by the players about how they felt treated. Experiences that they shared about one-on-one experiences with coach Chryst and other coaches on staff. Stuff that you can’t make up, so that was really a powerful part.”

Christy Durand, mother of James Durand, complimented the UW players and staff on the “wonderful amount of information” they provided during their recent trip and their willingness to answers all questions.

“I would say what stuck out the most to me if I wrapped the whole weekend up was that it’s just a genuine, genuine program,” she said. “What you see is what there is. The people are genuine, the kids are genuine, and that’s great for me.”

Food and activities

Food options scheduled during official visits have included a fish fry from Jordan’s Big 10 Pub at Porter Boathouse one weekend last year and lunch on the Memorial Union Terrace in 2018. Miranda Jones and the Yacamellis recalled last year’s Badger Bash, where local food options were available and recruits got an opportunity to interact with current Badgers.

“All the neat food trucks and stuff came in,” Kerry Yacamelli said.

Pontoon boat rides were part of the events during one week in the summer of 2018, along with last weekend. They offered an informal setting for the coaching staff to interact with recruits and their families.

“I think all the coaches tried to spend time getting to know each family, which I think we really enjoyed that,” said John Tippmann, father to Joe. “Because you got to know each personality, and you really had time to sit with the other coaches and understand how everything works, which is pretty nice.

“We still today from those introductions or whatever, when we see those coaches, we still have conversations with them and just kind of enjoy the company.”

Players also get an opportunity to see what they would look like in a Badgers uniform. It’s become commonplace for recruits around the nation to post photos on social media from trips to schools, and the latest UW recruits in Madison last weekend were no exception.

UW also put together videos that show the student-athletes posing in uniforms around campus. Clips of photos with family, the recruit posing in football gear and taking in sites outside the football facilities intertwine with quick looks of the city of Madison, fans cheering and game footage from the season. The videos end with the recruits performing the program’s “Jump Around” tradition.

Christy Durand believes UW had staff taking video and pictures the entire weekend, from lunch to meetings and photo shoots. “You get a really good idea about what casual hanging out looks like,” she said.

2018 Wisconsin official visit photo shoot of Joe Tippmann and Hayden Rucci

Current UW tight end Hayden Rucci (33) and Joe Tippman (65) pose during their official visit in June 2018.

Paul Chryst, dinner host

One of the highlights mentioned by all the parents was a catered dinner that took place at Chryst’s house, which featured yard games and swimming in the coach’s pool. Derron Jones, Avyonne’s father, mentioned how he and former running backs coach Gary Brown “kicked some butt at spades” last June.

Most parents remembered a “very light-hearted atmosphere,” as Miranda Jones described it. However, one current Badgers player fondly remembered his father meeting his match in yard games.

Outside linebacker Nick Herbig, when retelling one of his favorite stories about defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard last year, discussed how his father was playing the assistant in “cornhole, ping pong, all types of games” during his official visit in 2019.

“My dad, growing up, I never really saw him lose before,” Herbig said in November. “My dad is getting whooped, and I was just like, ‘Wow, this is crazy. I’ve never seen this before, (my dad) get dominated like that.’

“My dad wanted to keep playing him, and he said, ‘You know, I’ll probably never play you again. You just have to be a loser.’ And I was just like, ‘That’s somebody I want to play for, somebody like that who’s grimy.’ He’s a grimy dude, and I love that about him.”

The dinner also allowed parents to mingle with each other and the coaching staff, like when Miranda Jones sat down to talk with Chryst’s wife and mother-in-law at the Chryst family’s kitchen counter.

“That was one where as a parent, things settled down a little bit because your head stops spinning,” Branden McDonald said about the dinner. “With all these tours and with all this information coming at you, it’s hard to take it all in. But when we were there, I remember just sitting at a table with coach Chryst, a few other coaches, a bunch of parents, and we could just talk openly. Didn’t talk about football, which was cool.”

Quarterback Myles Burkett during his official visit to the University of Wisconsin in June 2021

University of Wisconsin quarterback commit (now true freshman) Myles Burkett points to a picture of Russell Wilson during his official visit in June 2021.

One weekend of Wisconsin’s official visits last year overlapped with the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. Burkett and his father are diehard Bucks fans, so Chryst took Terrence to an area where he had the game on TV so the Burketts could watch Game 7.

“The cool thing was coach (Gary) Brown, rest his soul, me and him were going back and forth,” Terrence Burkett said. “I think we really had a great connection. ... He was giving me so much grief about the Bucks, so during the game, when it was back and forth, he was just giving me so much grief. We were having a blast.”

The Yacamellis live just outside Pittsburgh, and Chryst coached the University of Pittsburgh between 2012-14 before returning to UW. Kerry Yacamelli said being at the house offered a different perspective on the Badgers coach.

“On the walls of their house, there’s memorabilia from coach Chryst’s children in high school,” Yacamelli said. “We recognized the high school. They’re some of our rivals. Cade played in the semifinal district championship against where they used to live in the Pittsburgh area.

“... It was crazy because it was almost like going over to my buddy’s house the way it was decorated and with everybody that was there, which was kind of neat.”

Todd Rucci, father to tight end Hayden and offensive lineman Nolan, recalled a similar feel to a 2018 dinner.

“What I liked about it, it was the coaching staff, the coaching staff’s wives, their kids,” Todd Rucci, a former NFL player, said. “And there’s really no agenda, kind of like you’re hanging out at a family barbecue. You get to mingle around, meet other recruits and talk to parents and talk to coaches, meet their families. It’s really kind of a picnic atmosphere, and you just kind of hang out and (it) goes to whenever it goes to and pretty laid back.

“So that’s probably very consistent with the culture of what Paul has kind of built the program on.”

For the Jones family, they also participated in official visits to Colorado and California last June. Avyonne committed to Oklahoma State last spring before reopening his recruitment before those trips. Derron Jones said UW’s visit was different in its approach.

“I just feel that with the storied tradition, just being who Wisconsin is, they didn’t try to just wow you with the glitz and the glamor and the bright lights and the cars,” he said. “Like people put cars on the football field and things of that nature.

“I think they just were like, ‘Hey, this is who we are. We’re a storied program. We stand by our players, we’re going to love on them, we’re going to work them hard. We’re going to also just be there and support, teach, develop. And when your young student-athlete leaves here, he’s gonna be a better young man,’ and I think that was a huge thing for us.”

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