As the Ohio State Buckeyes rolled into Madison last Saturday for a highly anticipated matchup, former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne also made his way back to his old stomping grounds as a guest of DirecTV’s Big Ten Fall College Football Tour.
The 1999 Heisman winner and 2013 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame was the tour’s “local legend,” interacting with fans on game day.
The matchup provided some nostalgia for Dayne, who enjoyed success in the Badger-Buckeye rivalry in October 1999 when Wisconsin traveled to Columbus to take on No. 12 Ohio State, facing a similarly daunting Buckeye team. With the Buckeyes leading 17-6 at halftime, the Badgers took over and scored 36 unanswered points to take the matchup 42-17. Dayne rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns, silencing the Ohio State crowd.
“It was quiet, like a home game,” he joked in an interview with The Daily Cardinal Friday. “I had a lot of fun when we played against Ohio State.”
Since his departure from the program, Dayne has maintained a connection with the football program, specifically running backs hailing from his home state of New Jersey.
“We’re a tight-knit group,” he said. “All the guys from Jersey really make sure we all do outreach and check on each other.”
Among Wisconsin running backs from New Jersey is Jonathan Taylor, who Dayne keeps in close contact with and occasionally calls after Taylor’s NFL games.
Dayne has also met and spoken with current Wisconsin running backs a few times since the season began but said he’s found difficulty offering advice.
“You [have to] get your own experience… It depends on the situation you put in,” he explained. With a case like Braelon Allen, who has struggled when lacking touches, Dayne thinks a balanced rush and pass attack is required for a modern running game to thrive.
Offense in college football has changed dramatically since the age of the “ground-and-pound” offense that running backs like Dayne thrived in, reflected by the lack of power running backs in the NFL.
“[NFL teams are] looking for smaller running backs that can go in the flat and… flex and play wide receiver,” Dayne explained. “A lot of big guys can't do that, so that's why you’re seeing a lot of guys not getting paid.”
For example, Jonathan Taylor, who has traditionally been utilized as a rusher as opposed to a pass-catcher, was forced to hold out for the beginning of the 2023 NFL season before earning a contract from the Indianapolis Colts.
Dayne has also stayed involved with the program as a university ambassador, working with recruits for a variety of sports. He focuses on making sure both athletes and parents feel supported.
“[I] make the parents feel comfortable. Let them know that we [have] a good program here,” he said.
Additionally, Dayne has assisted UW-Madison by speaking to donors and raising money for the university and its athletic programs, and he praised the school’s growth since his time as a student.
“The whole area [that] used to be my stomping grounds doesn’t even exist anymore,” he said. “Being able to see things like that is neat.”
Ron Dayne will always have a home and untouchable legacy in Madison, with his #33 retired and never to be worn again by a Badger football player. The Badgers will look to channel some of his magic in the coming weeks as they continue to push for the Big Ten West title.