MADISON | When you say “Wisconsin,” you’ve said …
Brats, beer, cold winters and crazy about the Packers and Badgers.
And that doesn’t say it all, either – there’s deer hunting, world-class experimental aircraft and music festivals every summer, and cheese. Lots of cheese.
And kids who grow up here know all about it.
But what about the ones who come here as adults, the ones like a number of the guys on the University of Wisconsin football team?
For them – many of them, anway – coming here is culture shock.
Heck, for all some of them knew before coming here, Wisconsin might as well have been a province in Canada.
“I’m not going to lie, before I came here and committed here, I couldn’t point Wisconsin out on a map – I probably knew that little about Wisconsin,” senior safety Dezmen Southward said. “But everything I’ve learned (since) has been great.”
Which begs the questions: What exactly have they learned? And just how much different is it here than where they grew up?
The answers, in short: That you really can play football in sub-freezing temperatures. And in some cases quite a bit, in other cases not so much.
Regardless: They’re all Badgers now – they’re one of us.
For Southward and senior running back James White, the culture shock was pretty extreme – at least in terms of weather.
Those two both are from Florida – Southward is from Sunrise and White is from Fort Lauderdale – and they played together at St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Man I thought they was crazy,” Southward said of people up here playing football in such cold weather. “Coming from Florida, if it’s like 65 degrees, everybody’s like crying and complaining. So it was 55 degrees here, and I was literally like stuck, like an icicle, on the sideline. And I couldn’t quiteunderstand how people could go through a practice and hit each other when it was so cold. …
“But being here for four years now, 50 degrees and 60 degrees, sometimes those are beautiful days for me.”
It’s not like those two didn’t know it was colder up North, though. So how was it they were convinced to come to Wisconsin?
“Family atmosphere,” White said of his impressions of the culture of the program when he was being recruited.
For White, having friends Southward and fellow high school teammate Conor O’Neill already here – they both are fifth-year seniors, while White is a true senior – helped sell him even more on coming to play for the Badgers.
“Every coach at every place is going to tell you, ‘This is the greatest place, we’ll do this for you, we’ll do that for you, blah blah blah.’ It’s truly hard to kind of fight through that and understand what’s really true,” Southward said, beginning to explain how he was a help to White in his recruiting process. “And (so) I was one of the people who was able to tell him, ‘Listen, the things that they tell you are true here; they really look out for you.’
“ I think my opinion and Conor O’Neill’s opinion – because we both went to St. Thomas – I think it played a huge part in getting him in. And obviously we’ve been lucky to have him, he’s a great player.”
Growing up in Mount Airy, Md., junior Rob Havenstein wasn’t blessed to enjoy the same kind of always-summer-like weather as Southward and White did in Florida.
So coming to Wisconsin wasn’t exactly a splash of cold water to the face for the 6-foot-8, 327 mountain of a man where Mother Nature was concerned.
But when he arrived four years ago – he redshirted his first year – he did notice one thing that was different here than back home in the Chesapeake.
“The biggest thing I realized,” he said, “is that growing up in Maryland, you had a lot of Maryland fans, that’s true. But you had a lot of Penn State fans, you had a couple Virginia Tech fans kind of sprinkled in and out. And it wasn’t really everyone from the state of Maryland is a huge Terapins fan. …
“But if you were born here, you were born a Wisconsin Badgers’ fan. … And it’s absolutely awesome, because the whole state backs you up.”
Meantime, senior Chris Borland – who many think will be one of the top linebackers in the country this season and could really flourish in first-year head coach Gary Andersen’s new 3-4 defense – arrived in Wisconsin with a pretty good idea of what it’s like here.
“ I had a unique look at it – my dad’s from Madison, I have a lot of family in the Kenosha and Racine area, so I visited Wisconsin a lot growing up,” Borland said.
“So I kind of knew what to expect, and it’s even exceeded my expectations.”
Colder winters and crazy Badgers fans are just two of the things out-of-staters often have to get used to when they come to Wisconsin.
Also near the top of the list is different kinds of food.
That much has been pretty easy to adapt to, though.
“I probably didn’t eat a brat until my senior year of high school,” White said, “and I fell in love ever since.”
Southward’s favorite food here? You guessed it.
“Brats!” he said. “I think I maybe had one brat before (coming here), and it wasn’t a Wisconsin brat, that’s for sure. But the brats here are really good.”
However, those two don’t enjoy their sausages the same way as many of the natives.
“I eat them plain,” White said.
“I don’t do the saurkraut and everything,” Southward added. “Don’t put anything on it and mess it up.”
Fair enough, but that’s not the way Borland or Wautoma’s Jared Abbrederis eat them.
“At least spicy mustard,” Borland said. “I love the spicier brats, so that’s the staple.
“ I might mix it up and throw some relish or something extra on it – some onions – but the brown mustard’s a must.”
“Honey mustard and ketchup,” Abbrederis said of his preferred condiments. “No normal mustard, I like honey mustard.”
It’s a good bet that Havenstein also enjoys brats. But they aren’t his favorite food in Wisconsin.
“I’ve got to say, I’ve had some of the best burgers here that I’ve had in a while,” he said, describing –almost in a mouth-watering kind of way – one particular burger he had at a dive bar in the upper peninsula of Michigan on his way over to a family wedding in the lower peninsula. “They’re good – they’re just grilled good.”
It only seems fair, since they had to answer what their favorite foods are here, what are their favorites back home?
“Probably Jamaican beef patties, (or) curry chicken,” Southward said. “You don’t see too much of that here.
“There was actually a little food stand a couple blocks down, and I tried some curry chicken, and it’s just not the same. But I appreciate the effort. .. But Florida is truly a melting pot, so you really get some crazy foods like that.”
Crabcakes and football, that’s what Maryland does. That line from the movie “Wedding Crashers” is at least accurate on the first count – seafood is a big deal in the Chesapeake.
So no surprise, it’s a seafood dish that Havenstein said was his favorite from back home.
“It definitely had to be just a Maryland Blue Crab feast, just kind of all the accoutrements you get with that – the actual steamed crabs, and then you’ve got the fried shrimp, the clam chowder, the Maryland crab soup and then basically just anything with some sort of seafood in it,” Havenstein said.
“And then sweet tea,” he added of how it all gets washed down.
The food in Ohio isn’t a whole lot different than it is here, plus Borland has family ties here. So he had a pretty good idea what his palette was in store for when he packed his bags for Wisconsin.
“One thing about Wisconsin, the pizza game’s a little weak for being the Dairy State,” he said, a little disappointed because he considers the pizzas made at many of the pizza restaurants in and around where he grew up outside Dayton to be among his favorite foods back home.
“But they make up for it – I love the cheese curds up here, and they’ve got good craft brews,” Borland added of this state.
One thing that’s not a whole lot different here than in the other states represented on the Badgers’ roster is the popularity of football.
Maybe high school football is bigger in Florida, or college football’s bigger in Texas.
But overall, considering the way people here love the Badgers and the Packers, Wisconsin can hold a candle.
“The passion’s the same,” Borland said.
“The fans are very passionate here,” Southward added. “These fans are going to fill up the stands each and every home game, and they’re going to be here all four quarters cheering us on.”