Returning to Madison once again, 2019 tight end and Wisconsin verbal commit Hayden Rucci officially visited this past weekend.
Coming in Friday and leaving Sunday, Rucci took in meetings at Camp Randall Stadium, wore the cardinal and white jerseys. and even made a splash into Lake Mendota on a boat ride with his future teammates on Saturday.
“I was the first one to jump in because it was hot, so me and Joe [Tippmann] jumped in. Then everyone else followed us, which was fun,” Rucci told B5Q on Sunday night.
Rucci joined fellow verbal commits in Tippmann, offensive lineman Logan Brown, quarterback Graham Mertz, athlete Marcus Graham and defensive lineman Keeanu Benton —along with uncommitted recruits and Wisconsin targets Spencer Lytle and Bryce Benhart—in Madison this past weekend.
The 6’5, 230-pound Pennsylvania native was hosted by fellow tight end Jake Ferguson, though Rucci said they hung out with the other recruits and their hosts as well. It was a chance for the players to meet each other and bond in person—and for those verbally committed, to not just message back and forth in their group chat.
“It was so fun just hanging out with everybody and just spending time with my future teammates, and hopefully my other future teammates like Bryce and Spencer if we can get them on-board, which would be awesome,” Rucci said. “It was just cool making bonds and friendships, just the start of it, since we’re going to be together for the next couple of years.”
While hanging out with the offensive lineman on his visit, Rucci experienced a unique feeling for a player nearly six-and-a-half feet tall.
“Bryce is 6’9, and Joe and Logan are like 6’7, 6’8 so they’re huge, too. I’m 6’5, so I’m not that short, but I felt tiny compared to them,” Rucci said. “It was just funny, walking around campus and people just gawking at us, saying, ‘Are you guys football players?’ We’re like, ‘Eh we’re juniors in high school.’”
When meeting with the coaching staff, one event involved a little surprise twist with offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph.
“We went in, and it was pretty much all the offensive guys, and we were sitting there. Then Coach Rudolph gets up, and he starts getting really hyped up, and he starts to play this video, and it’s our highlights,” Rucci said. “I can’t remember who was the first one to go, it was probably Logan [Brown] or something, but it was a bunch of his highlights. Then it went to Graham’s, then Marcus’s, and then Joe’s, then mine, and everything. It was really cool.”
Rucci also met one-on-one with his future position coach, Mickey Turner.
Turner went through some of the prep tight end’s film, then played some of Wisconsin’s game and spring practice film to show how he would be utilized in UW’s offense.
“Just making connections between how I play and how I would play in a Badger uniform,” Rucci said, “so it was really cool. I was talking with him all weekend.”
Besides going on a boat on Lake Mendota with the commits and recruits on Saturday, the players also had the opportunity to go to head coach Paul Chryst’s house for dinner.
“I’m not sure if there’s another FBS head coach that is more laid back and personal than Coach Chryst is,” Rucci said. “Just having us over to his house, just hosting us and playing cornhole with us, it was just so much fun at his house with all the commits, and there’s players there, too.
“His relationships with his players, it’s just—still like obviously as the head coach—but you wouldn’t know that he was the head coach. He’s almost like one of the guys. It’s just awesome.”
With Lytle and Benhart in town—who are still deciding where to play football at the collegiate level—Rucci believes having the five verbal pledges in Madison at the same time allowed the two recruits to see a glimpse of what could be at Wisconsin.
“I kind of realized that having commits along with recruits is probably the best thing to do just so they understand how we are with each other, and I think there couldn’t have been a better opportunity for them to see that because the whole weekend we’re just having fun,” Rucci said. “What else do you want than a bunch of talented guys who like to work hard and have fun? So I think it was awesome for them to get an image of what it’s going to be like with the coaches, too.”
Rucci, rated a four-star recruit by Rivals and a high three-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN, plans to return to Madison sometime during the 2018 season, hoping to coordinate with some of the other commits in this recruiting cycle.
He noted to B5Q on Tuesday that Maryland had offered since committing to Wisconsin, with Stanford, Georgia, UCLA and Louisville, among others also trying to get him to visit.
Regarding his commitment status, however, there is without a doubt that he will be a Badger, declining those invites. On Sunday, he declared, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“After I committed back in February, I knew that I would not be going anywhere other than Madison, Wisconsin.”