MADISON, Wis. - Leaving home for college can be difficult for any high school senior. Leaving behind friends and family and moving to a new city is always a challenge, but there was an added element for Wisconsin defensive end Brendan Kelly and defensive tackle Beau Allen. Both were sought-after high school recruits who left their home state Minnesota Golden Gophers behind to play for the archrival Wisconsin Badgers.
So when the No. 18 Badgers travel to Minneapolis for the 121st meeting between the two teams, the game has a whole extra element for the two linemen.
"Being a Minnesota kid, and having committed there for nine months, it definitely means a lot to go back to my home and play them," Kelly, a redshirt junior from Eden Prairie, Minn., said after practice Wednesday. Kelly also mentioned he's hoping to have about 30 friends and family at Saturday's game.
Allen, a sophomore from Minnetonka, Minn., has a family connection to the historic rivalry, so he knew about the Border Battle growing up.
"My uncle actually played football here back in the ‘80s, so he would always give us a lot of crap for living in Minnesota," Allen said. However, Allen didn't grow up as a Gopher fan - he preferred Notre Dame for their national brand, so transitioning into a Wisconsin Badger wasn't a challenge. But a little extra chatter is to be expected when a recruit leaves home for another program.
"I got a little gruff for it, which is expected, you know when an in-state guy leaves to go to a rival," Allen said. "I was expecting it though. It wasn't too bad. I've actually converted a few of my Minnesota friends to be Badger fans I think."
Kelly's transition into cardinal and white had a few more twists and turns. Originally committing to Tim Brewster at Minnesota, Kelly backed out after Brewster had a rough start to his tenure as head coach.
"I think they went 1-11 ... and I was thinking to myself, ‘This can't be right, I can't be committed here,'" Kelly said. "The coaches did a great job recruiting me ... and I ended up being a Badger."
And when it comes to Paul Bunyan's Axe, both Kelly and Allen have grown attached to the giant trophy, but they're both hoping to get a few extra swings with it this weekend.
"I picked it up and swung it a couple times, hopefully I can swing that thing a lot harder this Saturday night," Kelly said, who has been injured or not at full strength for a significant part of his college career. "It's something that I didn't feel like I really deserved. I wasn't starting, I wasn't healthy, I wasn't doing what I was able to do. Hopefully this week I'll be able to run around the field with that thing."
"I love the Axe. It's just so impressive. It's really unique," Allen said, but he hasn't had a chance to parade around the field with it.
"I was freshman last year," Allen said. "I didn't want to overstep my boundaries. But this year I plan on getting my hands on that thing and running around."
So for Kelly and Allen, the trophy symbolizes not just another regular season win, but another chapter in a rivalry that they've seen from both sides.
"The Axe means a lot. I've got a lot of buddies on the Minnesota team ... we're always talking about it in the offseason when we go back home," Kelly said. "I've never not had it ... I don't know what it would feel like not to have it, but I don't want to find out."
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