MADISON, Wis. — The two quarterbacks have gone overlooked at various career points because of their height, pigeonholed and disregarded as talented but too short.
For that reason, they have carried an even greater desire to prove a quarterback’s success is not predicated strictly on a single factor outside of their control. Plenty of other elements exist, too: arm strength, agility, mental aptitude and leadership skills among them.
Hear them speak on the topic, and it’s difficult to discern which player is making the point, as if their comments meld into one single thought, the confidence wafting through their words.
Quarterback A: “The key is finding lanes and delivering the ball on time. There’s not that much of a difference if I was 6-1 or 5-11, to be honest. Playing behind the offensive line you play behind, you don’t really see over guys. You throw through lanes, deliver an accurate ball, throw the ball with arc and pace and just make plays.”
Quarterback B: “If you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5-10 or 6-3. You’re going to have offensive linemen who are 6-7, 6-8 in front of you. So you’re not going to be able to see over them. You’ve got to see through them. It’s almost more of an advantage to have the athletic ability to move my feet in the pocket and find a passing lane, not looking over someone.”
Now, for the reveal.
Quarterback A is former Wisconsin standout Russell Wilson, who made those comments in March 2012 during his pro day evaluation. Quarterback B is current Wisconsin scout-teamer Connor Senger, who made those comments Tuesday after practice.
That doesn’t mean Senger is going to be the next Wilson, of course. But he carries the same dogged drive, which is vital to success while playing a position most believe should be left to the over 6-footers of the world.
Wilson broke nearly every single-season passing mark in Wisconsin’s record books in 2011 but still had to prove he was worthy of a place on an NFL team during the draft because he stood at 5-11. He went on to earn the starting quarterback job in Seattle and reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
The 5-10 Senger did not earn a single scholarship offer following a standout high school career at Milwaukee Pius XI, in which he gained 6,754 yards of total offense and contributed 76 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. Instead, he was offered preferred walk-on spots at Wisconsin and Northwestern. When he arrived at Wisconsin as a freshman this fall, he instantly took control as the top scout-team signal caller.
“Not to use it as a handicap, but a lot of the reasons why I did not get a scholarship, everyone is like, ‘Oh we like what we see, but the height, blah blah blah’,” Senger said. “So I’m like you know what? I’m going to take a shot and run with it. And if I get an actual chance, I’ll give it everything I’ve got to show that I can play. I think personally I can play. I’ve got to prove it to the coaches and the rest of the team to get their respect.”
Oddly enough, the parallels between Wilson and Senger don’t end with their height or school choice. The two also bear a striking resemblance to one another, which has led to Senger obtaining several nicknames in Wilson’s honor.
“I probably hear Young Russ, Little Russ, Baby Russ more than I hear Connor or Senger,” he said. “That was my junior year in high school was when he came here and played. That’s kind of like when the kids around me at home saw me and said, ‘Oh you look like Russell Wilson.’ And then here it kind of clicked off and ran.”
As for the product on the field, Senger certainly has a long way to go to catch Wilson. But he is slowly earning his keep as a valuable commodity on the Badgers’ roster.
This week, Senger is filling one of his most important roles of the season as the starting scout-team quarterback emulating Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton. No. 23 Wisconsin (3-1) plays at No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday, and Senger is providing the starting defense with the best look they’ll see of the two before kickoff. Though Guiton has played well the past two weeks, Miller is expected to start after missing two games with a knee injury.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Senger said. “The scout role is very important. You kind of hear people like, ‘Oh you’re on the scout team. Well that’s cool. You’re not really a part of the team.’ But no, we do everything the same. We’re a team. We’re a unit. We roll together.
“We’re getting that defense ready. When they succeed, like the first two games when they had two shutouts, we kind of took credit for that. We showed them what they were going to be ready for on Saturday.”
Senger’s weekly preparation begins every Sunday by watching film of the upcoming opponent on his iPad, looking for tendencies he can use during practice. If a quarterback claps twice for the ball on film, then Senger will clap twice before taking the snap in practice.
Senger, who has plans to get into Wisconsin’s business school, is using each moment as an opportunity to learn for the future. His goal, he said, was to become a college football coach one day, though plenty of business remains for him on the field before that time.
“I know football is very important to Connor,” Badgers offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “He gives the defense a great look, and he’s going to be a heck of a quarterback.”
Embracing team concepts and understanding the value of patience have been easy steps for Senger thus far under first-year head coach Gary Andersen. Although Wisconsin will continue to recruit one scholarship quarterback every year, Senger hopes he’ll earn an opportunity to compete alongside them — and perhaps make a name for himself at Wisconsin just as Wilson did.
“Coach Andersen always says when your time comes, take advantage of it,” Senger said. “You can’t get left behind in these times saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t get the shot early so I kind of mentally dropped out.’ If you mentally drop out of it and then your time comes, it’s your fault, not anyone else’s. You’ve got to be on your game.”