Ah yes, it’s August again and Big Ten Football is in the air all the way from Piscataway to Lincoln.
Whether it’s PJ Fleck and his new Russian mobster face exchanging coaching secrets with Chick-fil-A, Scott Frost bragging about Nebraska being 9 close losses away from the CFB Playoff in 2021, Iowa keeping its offense under the Jaden Smith of college football assistants, Northwestern reloading for a Big Ten West title run with a team full of 2 and 3 star 4.33 GPAs, Ohio State bumping up against its NIL Salary Cap, or Illinois already trying to get out from underneath Bielema’s “Beer and Chicken Wings” bonus clause, the Big Ten Conference is amping up for another season of football delights and hoping against hope to somehow dodge Bama and Georgia in the CFB Playoff semis.
Before Wisconsin started camp this week to begin its run at our first Big Ten Championship game and Rose Bowl appearance since I retired, I sat down with my 2022 Honorary Badger Grandson TE Hayden Rucci and his brother, OL Nolan Rucci, to talk football, Paul Chryst beer runs, Jake Ferguson, recruiting, and Graham Mertz’s secret fears.
Scary Alvarez (SA): My sources are telling me that the two of you are brothers. Hayden, how shocking was it to go to that first practice last season and randomly see Nolan there?
Hayden (H): Seeing my brother out there on day one in the same uniform that I was wearing, yet again, was quite the surprise. I guess I must not have been paying attention to his recruitment enough.
SA: Who wins in wrestling between you two? 40-yard dash? Butter burger eating challenge?
Nolan (N): In order: Haven’t had a rematch in 5 years, but definitely Hayden, and I’d smoke him in a burger-eating contest.
SA: What’s it like being the 2nd and 3rd best athletes in the family after your mom, Stacy?
H: It has been hard for us living in her shadow all these years but thankfully she has been very helpful in showing us how to tap into the inherited athleticism.
H: Bobby, my father, and I have had multiple meetings to discuss this very topic. I can’t reveal all the cards but I will say it involves a couple of snares and some tannerite, which I’m sure my fellow hunters will understand.
SA: Have either of you ever done a beer run for Coach Chryst? And, if so, does he tip?
H: I have never personally been tasked with doing a beer run for Coach, but I would imagine that he tips in the form of Spotted Cow, as any honest man would do.
SA: Ohio State. Minnesota. Iowa. Which is the most likely win this season for the Badgers, Minnesota or Iowa?
H: I can assure you that there is a collective bloodthirst to get that axe back, so I would not want to be Minnesota traveling to a hostile Camp Randall.
SA: What is your favorite place to eat in Madison? This question takes on added importance given what we all know about the Wisconsin Football training table.
H: This is a very difficult question as it really depends on my mood, season, wind direction, along with many other factors. However, I am a big diner guy. That being said, Parkway Family Restaurant has about everything you need from pancakes to cheesesteaks (which is my favorite thing on the menu).
SA: What will it be like not having the best player in college football, Jake Ferguson, on the squad this season?
H: It will definitely be weird not having Ferg with us in the TE room this season, but some of his traditions will forever live on here- my favorite being the tight ends breaking it down on “1,2,3… TEQUILA!” after each game.
SA: What if I told you that Jake is my Grandson?
H: I’d call you a liar. Never have I ever heard that before in the entirety of my time at UW Madison. Not even every single game day.
SA: Wait until you hear how old Braelon Allen was last season.
[Blank stares from Hayden and Nolan]
SA: Nolan, how will you deal with Hayden being my honorary Grandson to replace Jake this season? Has it created any friction in your household?
N: While it’s hard to take on a new family, we’re all proud of Hayden for his brand new position as an honorary grandson, and will look upon his career with great interest.
SA: My nickname is The Don. What are your nicknames that you’re comfortable revealing here knowing there’s a 40% chance your mom and/or dad might read this?
N: I either get called big or little Rucci depending on who you ask, and if you asked either of us we don’t know who is who.
SA: What’s your favorite big offensive play in the new, revamped Bobby Engram offense? Handing it off to Braelon Allen up the middle, handing it off to Braelon Allen to the right, or handing it off to Braelon Allen to the left?
N: Any OL worth his salt would say Braelon up the middle but I know the tight ends love blocking out on the edges.
SA: What’s your 20-second elevator pitch for a top recruit to pick Wisconsin? (Caveat: I’m going to immediately fwd it to the Badgers’ recruiting staff. now that they have one.)
H: If you don’t like lakes, cheese curds, and 80 thousand people going nuts to Jump Around during the fall then 1. I’d have to call you crazy and 2. Would say you don’t like having fun and this place is not for you.
SA: Give me your breakout player, bedsides yourselves, for Wisconsin this season on offense, defense, and punter.
N: On offense, I’d watch out for Chimere Dike, and I haven’t seen a better spring ball than Hunter Wohler had, keep an eye on those safeties. And of course, there’s no need to mention the strongest and fastest punter in the nation- The Vuj.
SA: Name three reasons a recruit should choose Wisconsin over Ohio State, Alabama, or Clemson. Or, really, even one would be great.
N: I can tell you I chose Wisconsin over those schools because Madison’s got great fishing, reasonably priced cheese curds, a prime Rocky Rococo’s Pizza location, and did I mention the cheese curds?
SA: Hayden, it’s my understanding that you’re Graham Mertz’s roommate. Let’s hear a funny story about Graham that he’ll wish you didn’t reveal. I promise to keep it between the three of us.
H: Graham is very easily startled so I have countless stories (and videos) of me scaring the absolute bejesus out of him, but a fun fact is that he and Clay both share a bathroom in our house and both of them would rather go to the stadium to shower than actually use the one that they share.
SA: Thank you both for taking the time to sit down with me. What a tremendous honor it was for both of you.
[Hayden and Nolan politely nod]