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Wisconsin Football Reunion: Facing Familiar Faces in the Illini Clash

It’s a goddamn Wisconsin football family reunion in Champaign this weekend.



Former Wisconsin Badgers football head coach Bret Bielema
Nov 17, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema listens on his headset as his team plays the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin in overtime 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers football team is gearing up to face the Illinois Fighting Illini in a crucial road game this weekend.

Their starting quarterback, Braedyn Locke, will make his first career start, filling in for the injured Tanner Mordecai, who is sidelined indefinitely due to a broken hand.

This matchup holds special significance for the Wisconsin Badgers as they aim to avenge last year’s 34-10 loss to the Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. That loss, while embarrassing, wound up being the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to Paul Chryst getting fired.

But there are a few other reasons this game will be even more personal for Wisconsin football fans this weekend.

Wisconsin Football Will Face Several Familiar Faces Against Illinois 

Luke Fickell is approaching this game with a sense of determination, knowing the Badgers desperately need a victory before taking on Ohio State. What’s intriguing is that they’ll encounter a handful of familiar faces on the opposing sideline, most notably former Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema. 

During his time as the head coach of the Wisconsin football team, Bret Bielema established a reputation for success in the Big Ten conference. He led the team to three consecutive Big Ten titles from 2010 to 2012. Additionally, he guided the Badgers to several Rose Bowl appearances, cementing his legacy as one of the program’s most successful coaches in recent history.

But he’s not the only person with ties to the program. There’s also interim head coach and legendary defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard

Leonhard is a revered figure in the Badgers program, having served as both a player and a coach. Despite vocal support from many players in the program to retain Leonhard as the head coach, the Badgers opted to hire the experienced head coach Luke Fickell from the Cincinnati Bearcats to lead the Wisconsin football team.

After getting passed over for the head coaching gig and contemplating his options, Leonhard joined the Illini as a Senior Football Analyst this offseason as a stepping stone in his coaching journey. 

It’s unclear if he’ll attend this game (he spends weekends at home with his family), but there must be a small amount of animosity there; there simply has to be. 

But Those Aren’t the Only Badgers Connections in This Game…

The narrative becomes even more interesting as the Badgers will face another familiar face in Illinois defensive coordinator Aaron Henry. Henry played at Wisconsin from 2007 to 2011 under head coach Bret Bielema. 

To add another layer to this, Antonio Fenelus is currently the defensive backs coach for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Notably, he was a standout cornerback for Wisconsin during his college career and became known for his playmaking abilities and clutch performances, including a memorable interception in the 2010 Rose Bowl. 

In short, it’s Wisconsin football south and creates countless intriguing storylines and connections between these two teams.

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Trevor Lovec is a freelance sports writer, correspondent, and a diehard Northern Iowa fan. He covers trending Wisconsin football and basketball social media topics.