What does Wisconsin spend on official visits? Inside recruiting weekends under Luke Fickell


MADISON, Wis. — Kevin Heywood and Ryan Cory sat side by side at the front of a pontoon boat, soaking up the Saturday afternoon sun on Lake Mendota with a group of Wisconsin football recruits. The pair of offensive line prospects had done enough research and enjoyed themselves so much that they were ready to commit to the Badgers. Under one condition.

Director of recruiting Pat Lambert, who was at the wheel, pulled up next to a second boat holding Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell, offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and several other recruits’ parents. He declared that Heywood and Cory would commit if Fickell and Bicknell jumped in the lake right then and there.

“Honestly, before Pat said the word lake, Fick ripped his shirt off and was in full dive off the boat into the water,” said Heywood’s stepdad, Erik Dougherty, who was on the boat with Fickell.

That’s how the first weekend of Wisconsin’s official visits in the Fickell era unfolded: with a big splash. Wisconsin brought 16 recruits in for an official visit the weekend of June 2-4, 10 of whom were uncommitted. Six of those 10 prospects committed to Wisconsin either during the visit or soon after and went on to sign with the program.

In total, 13 of Wisconsin’s 22 signees in the 2024 recruiting class committed to the Badgers around last June’s official visits, contributing significantly to Wisconsin ranking No. 23 in the 247Sports Composite — its second-highest mark in the internet recruiting rankings era. It further highlighted to the staff just how important those weekends are to sell the program, the university and the city.

“We’ve got to make sure that we are hitting at a very high rate of official visits,” Fickell said in the summer. “Because that’s where you’re saying obviously you wanted this guy enough to get his whole family here. You’ve got to do a better job at closing and sealing the deal.”

GO DEEPER

Inside the Texas spending blitz that hooked Arch Manning and a No. 2 recruiting class

Achieving that level of success requires a tremendous amount of effort, organization and attention to detail. It also requires a tremendous amount of money.

According to receipts and expense invoices obtained by The Athletic via an open records request, Wisconsin spent more than $319,000 during the first two official visit weekends last June, which included 27 official recruiting visitors and their families. Costs stemmed from flights for out-of-town recruits and up to two family members under NCAA rules, as well as lodging, food, transportation and entertainment, among other categories. All costs were paid for by Wisconsin’s self-sustaining athletics department, either through UW expenses, UW Foundation expenses or “special account expenses.”

Through receipts, itineraries and interviews with attendees, here is an inside look at a Wisconsin recruiting weekend under Fickell:

Thursday, June 1, 2023 (Arrival)

Recruits and their family members who flew to Wisconsin were picked up at the airport by staff members. They arrived at the Edgewater Hotel downtown — billed on its website as “the finest in luxury hotel services and amenities” — Thursday. Round-trip flights on the first weekend booked through Anthony Travel totaled $18,820.36, according to documents. Flight costs for the second weekend were $22,366.37. In total, Wisconsin paid for 50 flights.

Inside their rooms, recruits found handwritten notes from coaches on the bed. Wisconsin purchased gift bags and supplies for $1,188.60 from the University Book Store, which included 10 packages of Badgers-branded playing cards (with two decks apiece) and dice sets. Defensive end Hank Weber, who committed at the end of his weekend visit, said staffers asked recruits before the trip for a list of their favorite snacks. He chose Chips Ahoy cookies, Nutella sticks and Uncrustables. Wisconsin spent $1,210.04 at Target on May 23 in preparation for the first weekend of official visits.

Snacks included 120 bags of Frito-Lay variety pack chips, 16 bags of trail mix and an assortment of chips, cookies, crackers, snack cakes, popcorn, protein bars, candy, chocolate and gum. An additional $531.55 was spent at Target on June 6 for the second weekend. Weber said he felt like he was “definitely treated like royalty, to say the least.” But Wisconsin wasn’t done with its snacking expenditures.

Wisconsin placed a $600 order from Nothing Bundt Cakes, including 17 custom assortments of mini bundt cakes, known as Bundtinis, plus an eight-inch red velvet cake and separate mini bundt cakes adorned with football toppers. It spent another $545.15 at Crumbl Cookies for the two weekends.

“We still have leftover snacks,” said Wayne Dunn, the father of safety Raphael Dunn, who visited on the second weekend of June and committed at the end of his trip. “I’m not even joking. There was just so much stuff. Raphael was freaking out.”

Although there were no planned activities for out-of-town guests Thursday, recruits and their families found plenty to do at the hotel. Wisconsin spent $63.29 for a 12-month subscription to PlayStation Plus Essential, allowing recruits to play video games, in addition to more than $6,000 for dinner and other expenses in a banquet hall.

June 2-4 visitors

Player Hometown 247Sports Composite School

OL Kevin Heywood

Limerick, Pa.

No. 85 (four-star)

Wisconsin

DL Benedict Umeh

Toronto, Ontario

No. 155 (four-star)

Stanford

TE Grant Stec

Sleepy Hallow, Ill.

No. 267 (four-star)

Wisconsin

WR I’Marion Stewart

Chicago, Ill.

No. 304 (four-star)

Michigan

DB Xavier Lucas

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

No. 365 (four-star)

Wisconsin

RB Darrion Dupree

Chicago, Ill.

No. 387 (four-star)

Wisconsin

QB Mabrey Mettauer

The Woodlands, Texas

No. 456 (four-star)

Wisconsin

DE Dominic Nichols

Ijamsville, Md.

No. 540 (three-star)

Michigan

OLB Anelu Lafaele

Kalihi, Hawaii

No. 597 (three-star)

Wisconsin

TE Rob Booker II

Waunakee, Wis.

No. 611 (three-star)

Wisconsin

S Kahmir Prescott

Philadelphia, Pa.

No. 718 (three-star)

Unsigned

ILB Landon Gauthier

Green Bay, Wis.

No. 722 (three-star)

Wisconsin

WR Kyan Berry-Johnson

Bolingbrook, Ill.

No. 750 (three-star)

Wisconsin

OL Ryan Cory

Gibsonia, Pa.

No. 786 (three-star)

Wisconsin

DB Vernon Woodward

Winter Park, Fla.

No. 924 (three-star)

Illinois

DL Hank Weber

Franklin, Tenn.

No. 1,153 (three-star)

Wisconsin

Friday, June 2, 2023

9:30 a.m.: Breakfast at Pyle Center
10:30 a.m.: Depart on buses for Camp Randall Stadium
10:50 a.m.: Player development presentation with Chris Worley
11:20 a.m-1 p.m.: Position meetings, medical screenings, nutrition meetings
1p.m.: Lunch

The first full day of the official visit weekend began with breakfast at the Pyle Center, located just a half-mile from the Edgewater Hotel and next to the Memorial Union. Wisconsin rented the Pyle Alumni Lounge, which features floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view of Lake Mendota and access to a veranda. The room, rented from 7:30-11 a.m., cost $600.

There were 80 orders placed for “The Elegant Brunch”: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, a mixture of assorted pastries and donuts and hot chocolate. The food cost $2,240, and the hot chocolate came to $280, bringing the total for breakfast with room rental to $3,120.

Wisconsin used the Badger Bus service for transportation, renting two 56-seat motor coaches that operated on Friday and Saturday of both weekends. Each day cost $2,998.40.

After director of player development and engagement Chris Worley spoke in the morning for 30 minutes, recruits had individualized plans. For example, one recruit had a medical screening at 11:20 a.m., a nutrition meeting at 11:45 a.m., a position meeting with outside linebackers coach Matt Mitchell at noon and a meeting with Fickell at 1 p.m. just as lunch began. Another recruit met with Bicknell (who has since been reassigned from his O-line coach duties) and spent the last half-hour before lunch set up for a panel with Wisconsin’s offensive linemen.

Wisconsin added a few extra bells and whistles for the first official visit weekend. Lights flashed in the tunnel with music blaring, and the Badgers literally rolled out a 25-foot by four-foot red carpet in a tunnel from the south end zone leading to the field, as lights flashed and music blared, near where lunch was held for recruits and their families in the 5th Quarter patio area of Camp Randall Stadium.. There were four red velour ropes and six chrome stanchions surrounding the carpet. With delivery and pickup from Event Essentials, the cost for those rented items was $362.

“You could tell on some of the kids’ faces, they were smiling and thought it was great,” said Mark Mettauer, who was on the official visit the first weekend with his son, four-star quarterback Mabrey Mettauer. “They’ve got their phones out as they were walking into the stadium. It makes a difference. Trust me.”

Wisconsin provided two lunch options: Chick-fil-A and Casetta Kitchen and Counter. It brought in seven 30-count orders of grilled nuggets, as well as four large trays of Chick-fil-A nuggets, four large trays of macaroni and cheese and two large fruit trays for a cost of $1,251.42. The order of sandwiches, salads, chips and cookies from Casetta Kitchen and Counter cost $2,268.38. The school again ordered from those two restaurants the following week at a combined cost of $2,175.22.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

After Mabrey Mettauer committed to Wisconsin, the 4-star QB’s training went into overdrive

1:45 p.m.: Depart for Edgewater Hotel
2 p.m.: Rest/free time
4:45 p.m.: Depart Edgewater Hotel for Fickell family residence
5 p.m.: Dinner and hospitality at Fickell house
Post-dinner: Free time for recruits with host/parent social hour at Fickell house

Coaches and their spouses were on hand to meet and greet all recruits and their families Friday night for one of the most expensive experiences of the weekend: a meal from Blue Plate Catering at the Fickell home.

Wisconsin paid Event Essentials to put up a 30-by-40-foot tent west of the pool and north of the house that remained on site for more than a week to cover the first two weekends of official visits. Other products that remained on site included tables, LED white patio lights and folding chairs for a total cost of $12,007.

Fickell’s wife, Amy, helped to pick out 16 flower arrangements from Felly’s Flowers that included roses and hydrangeas and cost $1,451.95 when delivered. An additional $971.95 was spent for eight flower arrangements for the second official visit weekend at the Fickell house.

Weber said recruits met their player hosts for the first time at Fickell’s house. He spent time with defensive linemen James Thompson Jr. and Curt Neal. Players and recruits held a dunk contest on the basketball court inside the house. There were also arcade games and a swimming pool. Recruits then left with their hosts, while the parents stayed at the Fickell home for a social hour.

The total cost of dinner for the first Friday in June was $15,363.41 with gratuity, not including alcohol. (A week later, the second Friday dinner cost $16,160.91.)

Catered dinner at Luke Fickell’s house

Item Cost

Beef satay

$168.00

Jumbo cocktail shrimp

$210.00

Street corn tartlettes

$138.00

Charcuterie

$540.00

Classic Caesar salad

$360.00

Beef tenderloin

$1,300.00

Honey roasted turkey breast

$420.00

Mashed potato bar

$337.50

Sauteed green beans

$162.50

Pasta saute station (with chef attendant)

$600.00

Dry rub buffalo chicken bites

$378.00

Swedish meatballs

$280.00

Grilled Santa Fe shrimp

$465.00

Regular coffee

$31.50

Decaf coffee

$31.50

Fresh fruit

$200.00

Miggy’s Bakes

$480.00

Soda and sparkling water

$146.00

Bottled non-carbonated water

$238.00

Gatorade

$240.00

Bar details

$100.00

Coolers of ice

$60.00

Event lead

$396.00

Chef

$1,056.00

Servers

$816.00

Bartenders

$792.00

China place setting

$862.50

Bar stemware

$345.00

Banquet tables

$40.00

Linen napkins

$92.00

Service charge

$1,820.81

Gratuity

$2,257.10

Total

$15,363.41

Alcohol was purchased for the party on May 30 at Total Wine, with two receipts totaling $1,169.02. That included five bottles of Marchese Dell’Elsa Moscato D’Asti, four bottles of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, three bottles of Mascota Vineyards Chardonnay, two bottles of G&J Greenall’s Gin and one bottle apiece of 3 Amigos Blanco Tequila, 3 Amigos Reposado Tequila, Meiomi Pinot Noir, Cara Mello Moscato and Woodford Reserve bourbon. There were also four 24-bottle cases of Miller Lite, four 24-bottle cases of Coors Light and four 12-packs of New Glarus Spotted Cow.

“Basically the parents closed the house down,” Mark Mettauer said. “There were like three levels of the house and there was food everywhere. They spared no expense. It was very well done for such a large crowd.”

The total cost of the two official visit Friday night events at the Fickell house amounted to $48,398.13 with catering, alcohol, flowers and tent/table setup.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

9:15 a.m.: Depart Edgewater Hotel for campus
9:30 a.m.: Academic breakfast in the Champions Club
10:35 a.m.: Strength and conditioning presentation with Brady Collins
11 a.m.: NIL presentation in the team room
11:15 a.m.: Player panel
11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Photo shoot, position coach meeting, academic services meeting
1:30 p.m.: Badger Bash lunch

Two highlights from the Saturday morning schedule came from listening to strength and conditioning coach Brady Collins lay out his vision, as well as hearing Fickell discuss his thoughts on players earning compensation from name, image and likeness.

Weber said Collins presented a slideshow of before-and-after photos showing his work in a few months with Wisconsin players such as running back Braelon Allen and wide receiver Will Pauling. Mark Mettauer described Fickell’s message on NIL as “the most specific I’ve ever seen,” with an emphasis on everyone, including walk-ons, being able to reap financial rewards through hard work while wanting to ensure that Wisconsin did not have a fractured locker room.

By the time recruits wrapped up their meetings and photo shoots posing for pictures in a Wisconsin uniform, the program had a massive lunch for its “Badger Bash” set up on the practice field. Wisconsin brought in Mission BBQ, Ian’s Pizza and State Street Brats to provide recruits with a taste of Madison. The barbecue order was the largest ($6,660.80) and included pulled chicken, sliced brisket and jalapeño and cheese sausage by the pound with four sauces, as well as slider rolls, cornbread halves, quarts of mac and cheese and green beans with bacon and coleslaw.

Total cost for catering from all three restaurants came to $8,972.92 on the first weekend and $5,354.90 on the second weekend. Ice cream was served for dessert, and recruits passed time playing cornhole and watching television. Wisconsin spent $14,870 each weekend for the tents, tables, benches, chairs and couches for the event.

The Badgers also spent $900 the first weekend on white helium balloons with red tassels, as well as balloons in the shape of a field goal post with a football, that were hung up across the field. Another expense for $2,202 went to Alpha-Lit Madison for marquee letters used during the first three official visit weekends. Some staffers carried party confetti poppers in their pockets — 100 of which were ordered on Amazon for $114.95 — in the event any recruits committed during the visit. Offensive lineman Colin Cubberly said staffers used them after he committed over lunch during the second weekend of official visits.

USATSI 21721640 scaled


Wisconsin’s 2024 class ranks No. 23 in the 247Sports Composite. (Jeff Hanisch / USA Today)

2:15 p.m.: Depart for Edgewater Hotel
2:30 p.m.: Boats available on Lake Mendota
4 p.m.: Rest/free time
5:40 p.m.: Meet in Edgewater Hotel lobby
5:50 p.m.: Depart for dinner (Recruits and recruit families departed for two different dinner locations)
6 p.m.: Dinner at Rare Steakhouse for families of recruits
6 p.m.: Dinner and entertainment at Camp Randall Stadium for recruits
Post-dinner: Red Crown parent and coaches social at the Edgewater Hotel
Post-dinner: Free time with host for recruits

The afternoon commitments of Heywood and Cory while on the lake sent a ripple effect of good vibes into the night. Coaches, spouses and families of recruits convened for dinner at Rare Steakhouse downtown on the Capitol Square for the fanciest meal of the weekend. The program reserved a section of the restaurant, and parents sat where their nameplates were placed, typically at tables with the position coaches who were recruiting their sons. Parents said Fickell intermingled from table to table.

Attendees ordered six-ounce filet mignons, New York Strip steaks and Capitol Cuts. There were 15 orders of crab cakes, nine sweet chili shrimp orders and nine cheesecake orders, as well as salads, mashed potatoes, tuna poke, prosciutto profiteroles and bone marrow appetizers, among others.

Wisconsin spent $9,744.75 on food and ran up an additional beverage tab of $2,010.56. The most popular drink was 20 orders of the watermelon smash mojito. The rest of the beverage tab included 14 summer flings, 11 fruity business mocktails, 10 smoked old-fashioneds, nine Brandini Moscato d’Astis, six lemondrops, six Long Meadow Cabernets, five Woodford Reserves, five Provenance Merlots, four Catena Malbecs, four Fantasy Factory IPAs and four espresso martinis. Mark Mettauer said the smoked old-fashioned was a particular hit because it arrived inside a glass box that released the smoke when opened, and parents took photos on their cell phones. Dinner and drinks on the second June weekend came to a combined cost of $8,399.70.

Recruits, meanwhile, ate dinner from Mr. Hibachi Catering outside Gate 1 of Camp Randall Stadium near the statues of Barry Alvarez and Pat Richter. The meal was supposed to be on the field, but members of the fire department were fearful of the fire risk. The dinner cost $4,638.75 each week, plus an additional $500 overtime cooking fee, which brought the two-week total to $9,777.50.

Afterward, Wisconsin set up a one-hour pop-up portable laser tag on the field for recruits at a cost of $2,000 through UltraZone Laser Tag. Wings Over Madison delivered a 7:45 p.m. snack of 100 mild wings, 100 garlic parmesan wings, 100 honey barbecue wings and 100 spicy teriyaki wings, along with two trays of plain waffle fries, at a cost of $671.93. The recruits finished their nights with time alongside their player hosts, who received $140 each for their services.

Parents returned to the Edgewater Hotel for more drinks with coaches in the Red Crown Club, an impressive space that overlooks Lake Mendota. Wisconsin spent $1,257.50 on the nightcap, which included 25 orders of Tito’s vodka, 19 Miller Lites, 13 Trinity Oak pinot noirs, 11 mineral waters, eight orders of Stella Artois Cidre and six Spotted Cows. In total, Wisconsin spent $8,390.84 on alcohol and other beverages both weekends when combining purchases for the Fickell house parties, the Rare Steakhouse dinners and the afterparties at the Edgewater Hotel.

June 9-11 visitors

Player Hometown 247Sports Composite School

OL Liam Andrews

Brookline, Mass.

No. 123 (four-star)

Penn State

DL Dominic Kirks

Painesville, Ohio

No. 161 (four-star)

Ohio State

DB Omillio Agard

Philadelphia, Pa.

No. 419 (four-star)

Wisconsin

OLB Thomas Heiberger

Sioux Falls, S.D.

No. 486 (three-star)

Wisconsin

OL Derek Jensen

Hartland, Wis.

No. 523 (three-star)

Wisconsin

OL Ronan O’Connell

Franklin, Tenn.

No. 586 (three-star)

Clemson

DB Jay Harper

Valley, Ala.

No. 702 (three-star)

Wisconsin

S Raphael Dunn

Montreal, Quebec

No. 759 (three-star)

Wisconsin

OL Colin Cubberly

LaGrange, N.Y.

No. 767 (three-star)

Wisconsin

RB Gideon Ituka

Gaithersburg, Md.

No. 1,056 (three-star)

Wisconsin

DB Lloyd Irvin

Springdale, Md.

No. 1,167 (three-star)

Maryland

Sunday, June 4, 2023

8 a.m.: Breakfast at the Edgewater Hotel
9:30 a.m.: Depart for airport and home

Every recruit met with Fickell in a private space at the hotel Sunday morning during breakfast to touch base before the end of the visit. Weber had made up his mind and informed Fickell of his commitment to Wisconsin, which set off another celebration. Afterward, Weber said defensive line coach Greg Scruggs walked him toward the breakfast area where the players were seated and proclaimed: “We got another one!” It was a fitting way to cap a triumphant weekend.

Wisconsin paid for 40 hotel rooms on Friday and Saturday night, with room charges ranging from $279-$289, plus an additional $21 resort fee charge. Recruits and their family members each had their own rooms. Other charges included banquet room rentals, banquet food, banquet service charges, banquet AV rentals and parking. The largest bill of the weekend came to $60,313.29, with $54,172.49 spent at the hotel on the second weekend. When including a $15,547.74 bill for other official visits later in the month, Wisconsin spent a total of $130,033.52 at the Edgewater Hotel in June.

By the time checkout arrived, Wisconsin recruits and their families had been treated to a memorable weekend that forged bonds and, in many instances, served as the final piece that allowed players to feel comfortable making their college commitment. Other players continued to take official visits in June. But the Badgers had done their part to create what they believed was the best experience they could offer.

They footed the bill that proved it.

“We had a great time,” Mark Mettauer said. “They did a great job, and I bet it’s going to be even better this year.”

(Top photo: Courtesy of Erik Dougherty)





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top