Wisconsin has been recruiting at unprecedented levels as of late, but even the most optimistic of fans couldn’t have imagined a coup like this.
Five-star offensive tackle Nolan Rucci committed to Wisconsin Tuesday over the likes of Penn State, Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Michigan. He held an offer from practically every blue blood program, and is rated by 247Sports as the fifth-best offensive lineman in the country.
Besting that collection of schools would have been impressive in and of itself. However, this recruitment had an extra twist. Todd Rucci, Nolan’s father, was a standout offensive lineman for Penn State in the 1990s. Nolan’s mother, Stacy, was an All-American field hockey player for the Nittany Lions. And, to top it all off, Rucci lives in Lititz, Pennsylvania, just two hours from State College.
Penn State has prioritized Rucci’s recruitment for years, and it seemed unthinkable that he’d spurn the Nittany Lions given his family’s rich history at the school.
But, as it happened, Wisconsin had their own X factor in the recruitment. Nolan’s brother Hayden, a tight end, is entering his redshirt freshman year with the Badgers. Unlike Nolan, he was not offered by Penn State, and instead cultivated a relationship with Micky Turner, Joe Rudolph, Paul Chryst, and the rest of the Wisconsin coaching staff, eventually becoming part of the Badgers’ vaunted class of ‘19.
When Hayden went through his recruitment process, his little brother Nolan, then just an eighth grader, was at his side for every step. That gave Wisconsin’s coaches the chance to build a relationship with both brothers, and Nolan got to know the ins-and-outs of the Badger program before he first appeared on the national radar.
That was before Nolan grew into a 6’8”, 295 pound behemoth, before his All-American awards, and before the recruiting services recognized him as a five-star prospect, a designation reserved for the very best players in the country.
Even as Rucci’s recruitment blew up, and Penn State, Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State began taking interest, Nolan’s relationship with the Wisconsin coaching staff never waned.
That relationship, and the chance to play alongside his brother, helped make Nolan’s decision an easier one.
“Starting from Rudy [Joe Rudolph] back so long ago, I think the relationships I’ve developed with the staff have been huge. I’ve loved the staff every step of the way. The fact that they’ve stuck together and been there so long has been huge for me,” Rucci told Jesse Temple of The Athletic.
Rucci’s commitment only adds to an extremely impressive stable of young offensive linemen. Since 2019, Wisconsin has signed seven blue-chip (four or five star recruits) players on the offensive line, including Logan Brown, a five-star in the class of ‘19, and Jack Nelson, rated by 247Sports as a five-star in the class of ‘20.
Wisconsin’s impressive additions in the trenches have been at the heart of an overall positive recruiting trend that has seen the program break its class-ranking record (per 247Sports) three years in a row. In 2018, Wisconsin’s class ranked 48th in the country. In 2019, that improved to 29th, and in 2020, the Badgers reached 26th. With Rucci’s commitment, Wisconsin has rocketed up to 16th nationwide for the class of ‘21, and while that’s likely to drop as national signing day approaches, a top-25 spot is nearly guaranteed.
The members of those record breaking classes believe they can be the group to push Wisconsin into the college football playoff for the first time.
“As far as getting over the hump and having the chance to play for a national title, I think the guys in our class can be the ones to push it over the edge,” Rucci told 247Sports.