MADISON, Wis. — Jake Dickert’s friends and family usually spend their Saturdays dressed in Wisconsin Badgers gear.
But they are changing allegiance this weekend.
A large group of Wisconsin residents will gather in Madison on Saturday and wear Washington State apparel in support of Cougars first-year coach Dickert.
“It’s special to me,” Dickert said earlier this week. “There will be a lot of people there who have helped me get to this point.
“The Dickert tailgate will have more than 200 elements. I am delighted that our people are represented there. They’ll all be in Cougs gear, I guarantee that.
WSU and 19th-ranked Wisconsin will face off at 12:30 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.
The match will mark perhaps the most difficult test for Dickert in his young career as head coach. It will also serve as a homecoming for the Wisconsin native, who was an avid Badgers fan in his youth.
“A fan probably says it lightly,” he said. “When you grow up there, there are a few things that are in your blood – beer, cheese, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and Brewers. I am a product of Wisconsin.
“It will be a great moment and a great challenge to go back there.”
Dickert’s father will host a huge tailgating event to start the festivities on Saturday morning. Jeff Dickert, who has been planning the reunion for more than three months now, recently posted a memo: “No Wisconsin gear allowed.”
Most of the parents reside in Wisconsin, but many more take cross-country trips, returning to their homelands to encourage a Cougar upset.
For Jake Dickert, it’s impossible to downplay the importance of the moment.
He’s not a Wisconsin graduate — he played his college ball at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point — but as a kid, Dickert bonded with the Badgers program.
He attended the occasional Wisconsin game. Dickert watched Drew Brees set a passing record at Camp Randall Stadium in 1998, completing 55 of Purdue’s 83 attempts in a 31-24 loss to the Badgers.
At an early age, Dickert hoped to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and one day dress for Wisconsin. Gary Dickert, who comes from Arizona to watch Saturday’s game, started out on the Badgers defensive line in the 1970s.
“Every kid growing up in our state follows Wisconsin and thinks about playing for Wisconsin,” Jeff said. “It’s a huge event here. Everyone in Wisconsin loves Wisconsin football.
Jake Dickert has also attended youth camps and coaching clinics in Wisconsin. Granted, the coach will be struck with a deep sense of excitement when he steps onto the pitch on Saturday, but Dickert reminds himself to treat the game like any other and not get caught up in the whirlwind of emotions that are sure to accompany his return to Madison.
“I know he’s going to enjoy a lot of things that follow, but he’s completely professional,” Jeff Dickert said. “He’s going to enjoy watching over there and seeing the family, but that’s about it. That’s how he is.
Of course, Jake Dickert’s upbringing in “The Badger State” shaped his identity as a person and a coach.
Born in suburban Milwaukee, Dickert grew up in several small Wisconsin communities. The family moved every few years as her father rose through the administrative ranks. Dickert’s high school career began in Oconto – 30 miles north of Green Bay. He spent his senior year at Kohler, just north of Milwaukee.
“Growing up, Jake was very loyal,” Jeff Dickert said. “When he arrives in a new place, he puts everything into it.
“Jake learned from people that even if your father is the superintendent, there are no freebies. Everyone knows you. When you’re in a small town, you flaunt your own reputation on how you work and how you conduct yourself.
This region of the country associates itself with hard-working blue-collar ideologies. Jake Dickert fits the bill.
“I didn’t have to instill the work ethic,” Jeff said. “He always seemed to have that. He was always there to help. If you were to rake the lawn, he would stay there until it was done. He was always motivated, always wanted to win.
During his high school years, Dickert was a three-sport standout (football, basketball, baseball) and a student 4.0. He probably could have played college basketball, but he stuck with football after an impressive prep career as a quarterback. His natural leadership abilities caught the eye of Stevens Point coach John Miech.
“We always seemed to have the quarterback of every conference,” Miech said. “We looked at the fact that his father was superintendent and you could see the chief on film. … He had it in him.
In 2002, Jake Dickert joined his brother, Jesse, at Stevens Point in central Wisconsin, but he didn’t see the field for his first two college seasons. Miech decided to move him to wide receiver.
“I said to him, ‘You’re too good an athlete to be a substitute anywhere,'” Miech said.
As a senior, Dickert was an all-conference pick who led his conference in catches (56) despite missing time due to an appendectomy.
Miech was impressed with Dickert’s intelligence and inner drive.
“He was a math student, and I think that’s what started it all,” Miech said. “We would be in a meeting and he would always seem a little annoyed because he figured it all out so quickly.”
Jake Dickert eventually landed a defensive coaching job at Stevens Point, where he worked for a year and grew tremendously as a coach. Dickert remained a defensive-minded coach for the next 14 years, earning a reputation as an innovator and motivator, before landing his first head coaching job last November at WSU.
Dickert has proven himself as a thorough and reliable recruiter at Stevens Point. This landed him a job in 2008 at North Dakota State under Craig Bohl. Former Pointers assistant Tim Polasek—now Bohl’s offensive coordinator at Wyoming—was an NDSU assistant at the time and helped Dickert break into the upper ranks of college football.
In his home country, Dickert discovered his passion for coaching and found a path to advance in the profession. Earlier in his life, he established a diligent identity that led to his success.
“You get recognition if you work hard and put your nose to the grindstone,” said Jeff Dickert. “It’s been Jake all his life.
“He was always a hard worker. He doesn’t get distracted, and that’s probably the key for him to progress in these small schools. …Believe in yourself, and it takes you far.
At Stevens Point, Jake Dickert met his future wife, Candice. The two have three children together and are happy to finally be settled in Pullman – a tight-knit community that reminds them of their humble roots.
Dickert often praises Candice for her patience. The family moved eight times between 2008 and 2020 as Dickert rose through the coaching ranks, making stops in several small markets before landing his first FBS job in 2017 at Wyoming and then his first Power Five job in 20 at WSU. .
“That’s what we went through, moving every few years,” Jeff said. “By moving his family, he understands a little better how it works.
“When the opportunity came, he was ready. He got the best out of the coaches he worked with, just like he got the best out of the communities we put him through.
With the influential figures in his life gathered in Madison to celebrate his rise through the coaching ranks and his grand return to Wisconsin, Saturday’s kickoff will no doubt be a looping moment for Jake Dickert.
“These people that I represent every day, they’re proud of me and (they are) why I’m sitting in this seat,” he said.
“I am the product of those who have surrounded me my entire life and the hard work that has brought me here.”