Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Luke Fickell’s path to redemption

Methodical approach to recruiting, culture building, strategy, propels UW toward national prominence
Soren Goldsmith

When Luke Fickell was hired as the University of Wisconsin’s football head coach, a new era of UW football was underway. After his first season’s record of 7-6 — the same as the 2022 season — some may have expected more from the head coach who transformed the University of Cincinnati’s football program over his six years there.

But Fickell’s impact isn’t one of immediate profit. It’s a generational rebuild.

UW’s 2023 football recruitment class ranking was No. 40. UW enters the 2024 season boasting the No. 24 ranked recruitment class in the nation — currently projected to be No. 9 in 2025.


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Abdul-Rasheed Flythe — football student manager and recruiting and player personnel — has held his position for seven months. Weekly check-ins about athletes’ grades and mental health have been a staple in keeping up with recruits and keeping them as the priority.

“We always want to know how they’re doing in their academics, how their families are doing,” Flythe said. “Fickell preaches family… that’s why people want to come to a more family-type program.”

And recruits came indeed — from 13 states specifically. The geographic variety in the incoming recruitment class surprised Fickell.

“As I walked in the door here a year ago I would have said ‘Hey we’re going to be regionalized in a lot of ways,’” Fickell said at the National Signing Day Media Conference. “We’ll make sure our footprint is in the Big 10 but then where else does the brand really reach?”

A sense of family and brand aren’t the only tools used to attract recruits to UW either. Since moving to Madison, Fickell has utilized the essence of the college town to show there’s more to Madison than the cold weather. Opinions of UW on visits during the winter are refuted by the beautiful springs and summers when camps are in session. Early enrollees have the chance to get acclimated to campus and start training early for the upcoming season.

Building strong relationships with position coaches and the program as a whole is crucial for these young athletes who may have the chance to be starters as freshmen. There’s a culture and environment beyond football that makes UW home to these athletes.

This offseason the recruitment department tackled their problem positions at offensive line, defensive line, defensive back and wide receiver. With Braelon Allen declaring for the NFL Draft — the “Running Back University” moniker will rest in the hands of incoming freshmen: Dilin Jones, Darrion Dupree, and Gideon Ituka.

Jones and Ituka being top recruits coming out of Maryland reveal a strong step towards UW being a competitive recruiter in the East Coast. Fickell and his staff show a desire to continue building their “East Coast stronghold” as Fickell called it at the National Signing Day Media Conference.

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Fickell told the media that the main position he wanted to recruit for this offseason was the running back. This incoming class brings depth to the locker room with each of the new backs bringing different weapons on their arrival to Camp Randall. Fickell’s goal with the program is to create a multidimensional team of athletes. Several recruits played multiple sports such as baseball, basketball and wrestling — bringing a fluidity of flexibility, technique and strength to UW.

Along with fresh offensive line and defensive additions, Fickell and his team have surely covered the most obvious holes in the team from last year. New staff additions in AJ Blazek, Alex Grinch and Kenny Guiton bolster the development of these critical positions. UW football is starting to come into the vision Fickell has for it — a fresh offense and a defense with depth up front and in the secondary.

In the current climate of college football, the rise of UW is a good omen in wake of the expansion of the Big 10. Conference records of 4-5 in 2022 and 5-4 in 2023 will need to be improved upon as Oregon, University of California Los Angeles, and University of Southern California, and Washington will come to take the spoils of the Big 10 in the upcoming season.

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The ultimate test will be a 2024 season packed with heavy hitters in Alabama, University of Southern California, and Oregon. UW won’t have much time to experiment with what works and what doesn’t either — the last nine games of the regular season all being conference games.

Alabama being the team before this conference game streak won’t make Fickell and his team’s breathing room anymore spacious. They will need to hit the ground running this season using all of their new additions to their advantage.

But it’s clear that what Fickell and his recruitment department are up to the challenge and that what they have in motion for the UW football program has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

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