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UW's Strickland continues to excel

Former Lancer has key role in Badgers football program

Ben Strickland celebrates with Badger teammate Joe Thomas following a victory. Ben and Joe were together at Brookfield Central before going on to the University of Wisconsin.

Ben Strickland celebrates with Badger teammate Joe Thomas following a victory. Ben and Joe were together at Brookfield Central before going on to the University of Wisconsin. Photo By Joe Koshollek

Aug. 23, 2014

Anyone who followed Ben Strickland's athletic career at Brookfield Central shouldn't be surprised with where he is today, serving as cornerbacks coach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Strickland was one of those amazing multiple-sport athletes who excelled at three sports all four years of high school (1999-2002) and earned 11 varsity letters. A star running back on the Lancers team which won the Greater Metro Conference Championship, Strickland's final high school football game was played at Camp Randall Stadium, where the Lancers finished as the state runner-up.

"It was a blast," Strickland recalled. "My senior year, playing with Joe (Thomas), seeing him have the success he did. ... Joe being on the team helped Steve Johnson (another Badger walk-on) and I get exposure. They (Badger coaches) came to a West Allis Hale game and I had a good game and they started talking to me about becoming a walk-on at Wisconsin.

"I knew I benefited for the opportunity because of Joe, but anything else further in I had to work hard for. It was hard. Those first four days had those 'Welcome to college football' moments. But I benefited from those kind of things the most and continued to work hard at what I did. The people I was able to meet, the relationships I formed, it's gotten me to this point. It's something I will always treasure, that time."

The scrappy Strickland walked on at UW and became a key member of the Badgers' special teams unit. He was named a team captain in 2007 despite being a backup defensive back.

Strickland knew his relationship with athletics wasn't over when his playing career ended.

"That passion for sports continued to grow," Strickland said. "When I got done playing, it felt like something was missing. I just couldn't see myself not being involved in sports in some capacity.

Badger Builder

Strickland enjoyed his experiences as a Badger and wanted to stay involved in some capacity.

"I felt like it was a good experience with the coaches I played under — whether it was an assistant coach, a head coach (Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema)," Strickland said. "I knew it would continue on for the rest of my life whether as a player or a coach. I knew I wanted to stay involved because of how much sports gave to my life, wanting to pass that on to those after me."

Strickland spent three years coaching at UW before working his way into a full-time position. He started out as a defensive quality control coordinator (coaching intern) in 2009, then worked as a graduate assistant (scholarship to coach) in 2010-11.

Bielema gave Strickland his first full-time position at the school, hiring him late in January 2012 as the secondary coach, the final position on his staff.

But football at the Division 1 level is a business, and when Bielema left and coach Gary Andersen was hired a year ago, Strickland's future was up in the air. But he worked to keep the 2013 recruiting class together, even though he didn't know at the time if he would be staying at UW.

"I leaned on people who had gone through it (head coaching change)," Strickland said. "One of the coaches told me. 'You're a Wisconsin guy, that matters, and it shows in the way you coach. Do the best job you can while you're here and it will work out.'"

Strickland threw himself into recruiting, taking on the recruits as if they were his own.

"I just really got involved with those kids, got to know their families, what type of kid they were," he said. "I didn't want their transition from one coach to the next to be a drop off into the quality of a kid we bring into Wisconsin."

Strickland admitted it was a little bit of a slap in the face to confront the business aspect of the profession.

"I think I was a little weary. I had a wife to support. You are always looking to provide for my family and do something I like to do. Deep down, I felt like everything would work out as it was intended to."

New regime

When Anderson came in, Strickland had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him.

"This was a guy I wanted very, very much to work for," Strickland said. "How he takes care of people — not only the players, but the coaches and their families — was very much in line with things I believe also. That's what made things a lot smoother once I got to know him.

"There were uneasy moments, but it came back to being what I was and not getting away from that, and if it didn't work out, I'd find a way to make something else work."

Andersen immediately knew what he had in Strickland.

"Ben is a tireless worker, great recruiter and works so well with the young men in our program," he said.

"He is a terrific young coach. It's invaluable to have someone on staff who grew up in Wisconsin, played for the Badgers and truly understands the landscape here. He has built tremendous relationships with the high school coaches around the state."

During his time as the UW secondary coach, Strickland has seen his players have some success on a national level.

"It makes you proud and is one of the great joys of coaching," he said, "to see a kid go out and maximize his ability and potential, to see how good they can be."

THE STRICKLAND FILE

FAMILY: Wife, Laura, 8-week old baby girl, Zoe.

EDUCATION: High School at Brookfield Central .... College at University of Wisconsin ... Graduated with a degree in special education ... finishing Master's degree in educational leadership.

PLAYING HIGHLIGHTS: Four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection ... played in 51 games as a Badger on special teams and as a defensive back ... Finished his career with 72 tackles, eight passes defensed and one interception ... Blocked and recovered a punt in 2007 Capital One Bowl ... Also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone to cap a dramatic comeback win at Minnesota in 2005, a play named Pontiac Game-Changing Performance of the Year by ESPN.

COACHING EXPERIENCE: Minnetonka (Minn.) High School defensive backs coach (2008) ... Wisconsin defensive quality control coordinator (2009) ... Wisconsin defensive graduate assistant (2010-11) ... Wisconsin secondary coach (2012-present).

RECRUITING: Responsible for Wisconsin, Minnesota and Southern Ohio.

SECONDARY HIGHLIGHTS

2013 — The Badgers' defense ranked No. 17 in the country against the pass, giving up just 202.5 yards per game through the air and ranked in a tie for 13th in the FBS in yards allowed per passing attempt at 6.2.

Third-down efficiency — UW was fourth in nation against the pass on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 25.2 percent of their third-down attempts through the air.

Top three — The Badgers ranked No. 3 nationally both in terms of completion percentage (40.7 percent) and yards per attempt (4.37) by opponents on third down.

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