STRATFORD, Wis. (WSAW) On National Signing Day earlier in the month, one of the best players in the central Wisconsin area decided to stay home.
Stratford football player Ben Barten before a game in fall 2019. (WSAW)
"Of course, it's always a dream to hold up the 'W' for Wisconsin."
It became official on a December morning at Stratford High School, offensive lineman Ben Barten will go from a heralded career with the Tigers, to Madison to play for the Badgers.
"It's just a huge honor to be able to play for Wisconsin," Barten said. "And come from a school where I can have pride in being the one kid who actually gets to go to play for the Badgers."
Barten was heavily recruited by another Big Ten school, Iowa, but nothing could replicate what he felt on game-days in Madison.
"Once I went to an Iowa game, I kind of figured 'this doesn't feel like home to me'," said Barten. "Then I'm like 'Okay, I've been going to Badger games, like 12 in the last two years."
Every young football player in Wisconsin dreams of strapping on a Wisconsin helmet, running through the tunnel at Camp Randall, and hearing 80,000 people scream 'Jump Around'. For Barten, it's a dream he knew he wanted to make come true for more than a decade.
"I just remember my mom asked me, I was in like second grade, and she goes 'If you could play anywhere, where would you want to be?', Barten explains. "And I'm like of course, where else, I'm home right now. Of course everyone's like 'Oh it's just another kid with another dream', but I mean it's so surreal to have it actually happen."
The Stratford native can look down the road to Amherst, to find inspiration from a few other Central Wisconsin products that have made their mark for Bucky.
"Well seeing that (Tyler) Biadasz came from a school the same size as us, we just played them in the playoffs this year, him and (Garrett) Groshek I've actually became like close with," said Barten.
"Just everything that they've done, showing me that it is a possibility. I'm not going to be some small school kid that just goes there and sits on the practice field with them."
Barten heads south in early June, with the chance of a lifetime in front of him
"When you go in the locker room, you really understand that you're a part of this now, this is your opportunity. That's really been my favorite part."