Joe Rushka was a fresh-out-of-college graduate in January with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications and journalism from Ball State. He played some high school football in Indianapolis, spent a couple years as his university's intramural sports supervisor and once taught the proper fundamentals of flag football to kids ages 8 to 15 as a camp counselor in Maine.
In other words, he was indisputably under-qualified to become Wisconsin's next defensive coordinator. But while scouring job websites this winter, he came across the Badgers' then-vacant coaching position. As part of state policy at a public university, jobs at Wisconsin must be posted publicly, which generally increases the likelihood of attracting candidates with, shall we say, unique football backgrounds.
Rushka's lack of bona fide credentials didn't stop him from typing up a cover letter, submitting his resume and hoping for the best -- against all odds.
"The more I thought about it, I was like, 'Well, I have no shot at getting this,' " Rushka said. "I'm a 22-year-old kid with not really any coaching experience other than the local YMCA. It's a lot like playing the lottery, I guess. It's like I know I'm not going to win, but why not me?
"There's nothing that says I can't apply for it, and the worst they could say is no. And if the maximum I had to gain was I got the position, it'd be like, 'Wow, that's awesome,' even though realistically it wasn't going to happen. I don't lose anything by applying, and I love football. So why not me? I'll go ahead and apply."
Rushka was among several dreamers to apply for the position. ESPN.com obtained the defensive coordinator applicant list via open records request and found a group of 25 candidates with varying degrees of experience -- or lack thereof. The university did not include resumes or cover letters of those who requested confidentiality.
Wisconsin ultimately hired former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to replace Dave Aranda, and Wilcox's resume was included in the stack of publicly available applicants. His work experience touted the years in which he served as defensive coordinator at USC, Washington, Tennessee, Boise State, linebackers coach at Cal, graduate assistant at Boise State, and -- curiously -- as a furniture mover for M. Jacobs Furniture in Eugene, Oregon, during the summer and fall of 2000.
Of the 25 candidates provided, 16 had experience coaching football at the high school or college level. One candidate, Bjorn Siggelkow, coached the Cologne Ronin women's football team in Germany. Several other applicants appeared to possess little to no football experience whatsoever.
Among Brent Lindholm's listed skills were that he "played French horn and trumpet starting in 5th grade and played up until the past 2 years," and "can write screenplays and visual media scripts."
Justin Geisinger, a flight chief in the U.S. Air Force, listed his experience as having coached three seasons of youth football with the San Antonio Predators, three years of youth basketball and one year of youth baseball.
Michael McKeever, a sales consultant at a car dealership in Georgia, wrote in his cover letter: "I will implement various Defensive strategies to improve the University of Wisconsin football program to win the Big Ten Conference title, make the 2016 FBS football playoffs, and win the National Title in 2016."
James Jones spent 10 years in the military and now works in the HR department at Samsung as an audio and video technician. He also serves as an assistant track coach at a high school in Austin, Texas, and had been a volunteer assistant football coach at a local college. He said by phone that he had applied for college football coaching positions at all levels. He submitted applications for FBS jobs with Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Alabama and Wisconsin and expressed frustration with each school's evaluation process.
"You have big-name places that are out there," Jones said. "But you've got candidates that have way more experience. Coaches, athletic directors, they're so stuck inside a box that allows them to only stick with those people that have some type of experience instead of someone that may be younger or someone that's willing to try something different and try to turn a program around."
Rushka, who began work this week in a sales position with a media company, expressed his passion for the sport in an understated and humorous way when he submitted his cover letter.
"My family and I moved to Indianapolis when I was 7 years old," he wrote. "I began playing football two years later as a third grader for my school. I immediately fell in love with the sport and realized what I wanted to do when I grew up: play in the NFL. Since then, I did not grow much and got slower. I decided that working in any other area with football would suit me best."
Needless to say, Rushka did not come close to being offered the job. But he has a story to tell and a dream he'll continue to chase. And he wishes nothing but the best for Wisconsin's new defensive coordinator hire.
"Hopefully he's successful," Rushka said. "Hopefully somewhere down the line, I can confidently and seriously apply for one of these jobs and fully expect to get it. Good luck to the guy that got it, and I hope he does a great job this year."