Rader walks on at Wisconsin
By Rich Palzewic
Despite being a part of a national runner-up squad at North Dakota State University (NDSU) for the 2022 football season, former Notre Dame Academy standout Max Rader said it was in his best interest to enter the transfer portal at year’s end.
A few months later, the former Triton landed as a walk-on at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Football at NDSU is done a specific way,” Rader said. “I learned a lot there — probably more in the first two weeks I was there than all my years leading up to it. I took it all in and eventually played in a few games late in the season (at offensive tackle). I played in the last home game of the regular season and then the first postseason game (against Montana).”
The Bison won their next two postseason games before falling to South Dakota State in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) title game, 45-21.
“It was a special year,” Rader said. “NDSU expects to get there every year, and I thought we got better as the season went on. Any time you get to play in the national championship game, that’s pretty special.”
Rader said one of the main reasons he entered the transfer portal was to be closer to home.
“I’ll admit, I was struggling a bit being eight hours from home,” he said. “I knew it was eight hours away (when I committed to NDSU), but I thought I’d be able to handle it better than I did. With my dad (Mike) being the coach at Notre Dame, it was tough for him and my family to get to Fargo for a 1 p.m. Saturday game after playing Friday night.”
Rader said that led to him entering the transfer portal.
“I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, but I wanted to get closer to home to give my family a better opportunity to come to my games,” he said.
“My dad played at Wisconsin in the 90s, my family has season tickets and it was always a dream of mine to go to Madison and be a Badger,” Rader said. “With COVID and getting hurt in high school, the opportunity never came about.”
Rader tore the labrum in his left shoulder during the last game of the 2020 alternate fall season, which wasplayed in spring 2021.
After being out for five months, he managed to come back late in the fall 2021 season but didn’t get many reps.
“I played a few snaps on senior night and then a couple of drives in the next two playoff games,” Rader said.
He said even up to a few months ago, he never thought playing at Wisconsin was possible.
“I played five snaps all year at NDSU, I’m not the biggest offensive lineman there is and I didn’t have any new film out there,” the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Rader said. “Once I put my name in the portal, I got a call from (Wisconsin’s offensive line) coach (Jack) Bicknell. He said to me, ‘If this is something you want to do, let’s see what we can do.’ After some meetings, I decided it was what I wanted to do.”
After former coach Paul Chryst was fired early in the 2022 season after a 2-3 start, Wisconsin eventually settled on former Ohio State coach Luke Fickell to take over the program.
“I think with a new coaching staff, there might be some turnover with the roster,” Rader said. “With Wisconsin bringing me in, I have high hopes I’ll eventually be a contributor. There are 85 scholarship players, but there are 125 kids on the roster.”
Rader said during the Badgers’ spring practice session, which runs until the end of April, he’s been taking reps at offensive tackle — like he did at NDSU.
“The big thing I have to work on is putting on healthy weight and gaining strength,” he said. “When I was at Notre Dame, I weighed 240 pounds, so since I graduated (in 2022), I’ve gained about 30 pounds. I think I can comfortably get to 305 or 310. I’m still a pretty thin 270.”
Rader said his dad was influential in his decision to transfer to Wisconsin.
“I think deep down, my dad always wanted me to be a Badger,” he said. “His thinking was, ‘If you can be a Badger, let’s see what we can do.’ When I was younger, I’d wear his old Wisconsin helmet and play around with it. He wanted me to make the right choice, and as long as this was the right choice, he’s happy about it.”