Fourteen years ago Randy Gyllin was preparing for the start of a grey-shirt season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after receiving a full athletic scholarship to be part of the Badgers football team following a standout career for Mauston.
“Things really started as far as recruitment after I was all-state as a junior,” Gyllin said. “The phone calls started to come and I got invited to camps at Iowa, Nebraska, UW, and a number of schools in the Midwest. It really was a great experience.
“I thought it was crazy, getting a full ride to play football. I chose Madison to be closer to my family. My mom was going through an illness and I wanted to be able to be there for them, and really what kid growing up in Wisconsin doesn’t want to be a Badger?”
Following a grey-shirt season, Gyllin got his first taste of big-time college football during the Badgers first spring practice lining up against Erasmus James. James would go on to be a first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2005 after being all-Big Ten and a consensus all-American in 2004.
“For me, I was glad it was him. We lined up and the first play was a five-step drop, so I kicked back and he got under my pads and slammed me to the ground,” Gyllin said. “It really woke me up, but was also embarrassing with my family, friends and old coaches all in the stands. I knew I needed to get to work. It’s a nice story with him ending up a first-round pick; it makes it sound a little better.”
Multiple injuries cost Gyllin opportunities to see the field as a Badger.
“I battled through some ankle and wrist injuries that first year and played with a cast the next season. The injuries caused me to fall behind and I had a decision to make,” Gyllin said.
That decision would take his playing career to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he finished his career with honorable mention All-American honors in Division III.
“I wanted things to be on my own terms,” Gyllin said. “Winona State was an option, but I ended up choosing La Crosse, which was the school to be at in the WIAC at the time.”
“When I got to La Crosse, I was fourth on the depth chart in the spring and nothing was going to be given to me,” Gyllin added. “I had to work for it and I did. The hard work paid off and I got to play, but injured my foot again and it would cost me the season. I came back midway through, but reinjured it.”
The injury bug finally subsided and was a relief for Gyllin.
“That process was frustrating,” Gyllin said of the injuries. “My coaches, parents and brother really helped me stay with it and I am really glad they did.”
Gyllin would earn All-Conference honors in his final two seasons, along with being an honorable mention Division 3 All-American. But for Gyllin, the best part was just being back on the field.
“I hadn’t really played in a meaningful, big-time game since high school,” Gyllin said. “It was why I wanted to play in college and it was nice to get to experience that feeling again.”
Mauston made a couple of level 3 playoff appearances during Gyllin’s career with the Golden Eagles, and also won the school’s last South Central Conference title in 2000.
“That experience with that group of guys, especially my junior and senior years, was unbelievable. It’s something we still talk about when we see each other and it’s something I hope some other Mauston players get to experience. I think they are headed in the right direction,” Gyllin said. “We had so many leaders on those teams with Mark Wilcox, Jared Roecker, and Jake Burch; the list just goes on and on. They all had their own way of leading and one of the reasons I ended up choosing La Crosse was because of Mark being there.
“The thing I remember the most was how the coaches took us to ‘Remember the Titans’ prior to the season. It really got us going and was motivation for that season.”
Following his graduation from UW-La Crosse, Gyllin moved back to Mauston with his now-wife Charlotte and son Hayden. Gyllin now works as a physical education teacher for the Mauston School District and serves as the athletic director and head wrestling coach.
“My parents are both here and I want to be around them as long as possible. I applied at a few other places, but it was just meant to be,” Gyllin said. “When I got back, I helped coach football, wrestling and track. But after accepting the AD position, I just picked one and that was wrestling.”
Gyllin was also a standout heavyweight wrestler in Mauston. He finished second in Division 2 at the state tournament in 2001, and was third as a senior in 2002.
In 2013, Gyllin coached the Golden Eagles wrestling team to a second-place finish in Div. 2 at team state.
“It happened because of their hard work. That group, all of them that season wanted to see what they could do. I had a great group of seniors that led the way. We had six that wrestled their whole lives and two more that just came out trying to help the team out,” Gyllin said. “It was such a great experience and it is fun to see those guys and talk about it, and I am sure they talk about it together, like I do with my teammates from our playoff runs.”
Mauston has changed since Gyllin graduated and he feels not only is the school, but the city, is moving ahead in a great direction.
“Good things are happening. Look at what we have done as a city. Cleaning up Riverside Park, they keep adding more and more opportunities for families to be active and more businesses are coming in,” Gyllin said. “At school, the referendum will help us improve for the students. Sports wise we are getting new football, soccer and track surfaces along with a new bleacher area that will be handicap accessible. We are always trying to do things better. I was in the first class to graduate from that building and it still looks great.”
Coaching has taken care of some of Gyllin’s competitiveness and it is also a way to spend time with his son.
“I get to coach his fourth grade football team, we are both pretty excited. He is hoping to stay under some of the weight limits as far as position, but the writing may already be on the wall as far as him being a lineman,” Gyllin said. “He gets to hear about your dad doing this and that and about his uncle. He is very interested in my playing career and is always asking questions. I am glad I get to share those stories with him and those lessons I learned going through it.”