MADISON, Wisconsin – Usually, Jake Dickert’s friends and family members spend their Saturdays dressed in Wisconsin Badgers gear.
But they’re changing allegiances this weekend.
A large party of Wisconsinites will gather in Madison on Saturday and sport Washington State apparel in support of Dickert, the Cougars’ first-year coach.
“It’s special for me,” Dickert said earlier this week. “There are going to be a lot of people there that helped me get to this point.
“The Dickert tailgate is going to be over 200 strong. I’m excited for our people to represent there. They’ll all be in Cougs gear, I guarantee you that.”
WSU and 19th-ranked Wisconsin are set to square off at 12:30 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.
The game will mark perhaps the most difficult test for Dickert in his young head-coaching career. It’ll also serve as a homecoming for the Wisconsin native, who was a staunch Badgers supporter in his youth.
“A fan is probably putting 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’m a product of Wisconsin.
“It’s gonna be a great moment and a great challenge going back there.”
Dickert’s father will host a massive tailgating event to begin the festivities Saturday morning. Jeff Dickert, who has been planning the reunion for over three months now, put out a memo recently: “No Wisconsin gear allowed.”
Most of the relatives reside in Wisconsin, but many others are making cross-country trips, returning to their home state to root for a Cougars upset.
For Jake Dickert, it’s impossible to downplay the significance of the moment.
He isn’t a Wisconsin grad – he played his college ball at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point – but as a kid, Dickert fashioned connections to 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 83 attempts for Purdue in a 31-24 loss to the Badgers.
At an early age, Dickert hoped to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and suit up for Wisconsin one day. Gary Dickert, who is traveling from Arizona to attend Saturday’s game, started on the Badgers defensive line in the 1970s.
“Every kid who grows 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 also participated in youth camps and coaching clinics at Wisconsin. Certainly, the coach will be hit with a profound sense of excitement when he takes the field Saturday, but Dickert is reminding himself to treat the game like any other, and to not get wrapped up in the whirlwind of emotions that is sure to come with his return to Madison.
“I know he’s going to enjoy a lot of things that follow it, but he’s all business,” Jeff Dickert said. “He’s going to enjoy looking over there and seeing the family, but that’s pretty much 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 the suburbs of Milwaukee, Dickert was raised in several small communities in Wisconsin. The family moved every few years as his father worked up the administrative ladder. Dickert’s high school career began in Oconto – 30 miles north of Green Bay. He spent his senior year in Kohler, just north of Milwaukee.
“Growing up, Jake was very loyal,” Jeff Dickert said. “When he gets to a new place, he puts everything into it.
“Jake learned from people that, even though your dad is the superintendent, there’s no freebies. Everybody knows you. When you’re in a small town, you put out your own reputation in 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’d always stick around to help. If you had to rake the lawn, he’d stay there until it was done. He was always driven, always wanted to win.”
During his high school years, Dickert was a three-sport standout (football, basketball, baseball) and a 4.0 student. He probably could have played collegiate basketball, but he stuck with football following an impressive prep career playing quarterback. His natural leadership abilities caught the attention of Stevens Point coach John Miech.
“We always seemed to have the all-conference quarterback,” Miech said. “We looked into the fact that his dad was a superintendent and you could see the leader 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 collegiate seasons. Miech decided to move him to wide receiver.
“I told him, ‘You’re too good of an athlete to be a backup anywhere,’ ” Miech said.
As a senior, Dickert was an all-conference pick who led his conference in catches (56) despite missing some time due to an appendectomy.
Miech was impressed with Dickert’s intelligence and inner drive.
“He was a math major, and I think that’s what started it all off,” Miech said. “We’d be in meetings and he would always seem a little bored because he picked everything up so quickly.”
Jake Dickert eventually landed a defensive coaching job at Stevens Point, where he worked for one year and developed immensely as a coach. Dickert remained a defensive-minded coach for the next 14 years, building a reputation as an innovator and motivator, before landing his first head-coaching position last November at WSU.
Dickert proved himself as a thorough and reliable recruiter at Stevens Point. That earned him a job in 2008 at North Dakota State under Craig Bohl. Former Pointers assistant Tim Polasek – now the offensive coordinator for Bohl at Wyoming – was an NDSU assistant at the time and helped Dickert break into the higher ranks of collegiate football.
In his home state, Dickert discovered his passion for coaching and found an avenue to advance in the profession. Earlier in his life, he established an identity of diligence that led to his success.
“You get recognized if you work hard and get your nose to the grindstone,” Jeff Dickert said. “That’s kinda been Jake his whole life.
“He’s always been a hard worker. He doesn’t get distracted, and that’s probably a key to him moving up through those small schools. … Believe in yourself, and it takes you places.”
At Stevens Point, Jake Dickert met his future wife, Candice. The two have three children together and are glad to finally be settled down 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 ascended the coaching ladder, making stops in multiple smaller markets before securing his first FBS job in 2017 at Wyoming, then his first Power Five job in ’20 at WSU.
“That’s what we went through, moving every few years,” Jeff said. “Moving his family, he’s got a little more of an understanding on how it works.
“When the opportunity hit, he was ready. He took the best from the coaches he worked with, just like he took the best from the communities we moved him through.”
With the influential figures from his life congregated in Madison to celebrate his rise through the coaching ranks and his big-time return to Wisconsin, Saturday’s kickoff will undoubtedly feel like a full-circle moment for Jake Dickert.
“Those people that I represent each and every day, they’re proud of me and (they are) why I’m sitting in this seat,” he said.
“I’m a product of who has been around me my whole life and the hard work that’s gotten me here.”