Return to New Jersey is cause for celebration for McEvoy family

Steve McEvoy didn't think he'd ever see his son play a football game back in New Jersey again, so when Tanner McEvoy (pictured) and Wisconsin play at Rutgers on Saturday, there will be a large tailgate party to celebrate the occasion.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Steve McEvoy’s Excel spreadsheet is overflowing with names for a tailgate party to end all tailgate parties Saturday. After waiting four years to watch his son, Tanner, play football in New Jersey one more time, what fun would it be without a gathering of 123 of his closest friends and family members?

"We circled this game when it first got announced," Steve McEvoy said by phone this week. "Literally that day. I think I called Tanner that day just to tell him. He didn’t even know yet that it had been set up. So everybody is looking forward to it. Family, friends, Tanner, all of it."

Tanner McEvoy will return to his home state as a quarterback for Wisconsin when the Badgers play Rutgers on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT. McEvoy’s last game in the state came back on Dec. 3, 2010, when his Bergen Catholic team lost 37-27 to Don Bosco in the high school state championship game at New Meadowlands Stadium.

Steve McEvoy procured a parking pass from a season-ticket holder and intends on making the hour-long drive from Hillsdale, N.J., to High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., at 4 a.m. ET Saturday to ensure he has the first row of the parking lot. The food, Steve said, would include "a little bit of a Sopranos, Italian, New Jersey theme," with sausage and peppers, meatballs, breakfast items and regional beverages.

"It’s like moving an army on Saturday," Steve said.

The McEvoy family holds an even greater connection to Rutgers because Tanner’s older brother, Colin, played for the football team from 2007-10. Colin arrived at the school as a walk-on and became a valuable team member. During his freshman season, he even returned a blocked punt 22 yards for a touchdown against Army.

Tanner McEvoy said he did not seriously consider Rutgers, which recruited him primarily as a wide receiver, because he always wanted to play quarterback. Steve added that Tanner also wanted to forge his own path away from that of his brother.

Tanner, who has secured 20 tickets for the game, noted the two brothers haven’t spent much time talking smack in the buildup to the game.

"He’s good about it," Tanner said. "I’m not sure who he’s going to be rooting for on Saturday. But he’ll be on the sideline for them. I’m sure it’s going to be great to have us both out there. I’m excited. It’s going to be a fun game."

Steve said that Colin, who has a field pass for the game, planned on wearing a Rutgers T-shirt with a Wisconsin hat.

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"He’s going to root for his brother and then root for Rutgers," Steve said. "The two of them were too far apart to ever share a field together in a sport. This is the first time on some level they’ll be sharing a field."

Many of the people in Steve McEvoy’s tailgate party include family members of Wisconsin football players, including running back Melvin Gordon’s mother and tight end Sam Arneson’s parents. Steve said he wanted to find a way to give back to all those families for their hospitality when the McEvoys travel to Wisconsin to watch their son play.

Steve even intends on taking a group of 15 Badgers family members on a Friday tour of New York.

"We’re going to have a lot of fun," he said. "We’re going to take them right to the World Trade Center at 9, walk lower Manhattan, have some great pizza, go to Midtown and do all the big sites. Then get out to the hotel to see their kids at 6:30."

As for Steve McEvoy’s rooting interests?

"A hundred percent Wisconsin," he said. "When Rutgers plays anyone else, I root for Rutgers."

Much has transpired during Tanner McEvoy’s football career since his last game in New Jersey. He earned the state’s offensive player of the year honors as a senior and accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at South Carolina. After spring practice completed in 2011 and he was buried on the depth chart, he transferred to Arizona Western College for a season. In 2013, he arrived at Wisconsin but wound up starting games at safety.

This season, McEvoy and Joel Stave are sharing snaps as part of Wisconsin’s two-quarterback system. McEvoy, who started the team’s first five games, has completed 63 of 107 passes (58.9 percent) for 697 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has carried the ball 38 times for 380 yards with three touchdowns. His 10.0 yards-per-carry average leads all FBS quarterbacks and is second among players with at least 25 rushing attempts.

McEvoy began the season as Wisconsin’s starting quarterback but was benched late in the second quarter against Northwestern in favor of Stave. Since that game, Stave has handled 20 offensive drives and McEvoy five.

"It’s been hard to watch some of the tough stuff he’s gone through," Steve McEvoy said. "But by the same token you also realize as a parent, this is good stuff. We’re proud of him, we’re proud of Joel. We’re proud of how they have come together. We’re proud of how they’re both fighting, including my son and Joel fighting and the will to win.

"It’s been in him forever. It’s grown. He’s grown as a football player. He’s grown as a son, as a man. We think this season is all part of that growth. And he’s doing really well with it."

A victory for Wisconsin on Saturday will help keep the Badgers in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten West division title. For Tanner McEvoy, a victory would hold special meaning, of course.

"I don’t want to lose," Tanner said. "That’s for sure. I really want to get that win. I can talk a little smack back home. I’m looking forward to the game. I hope it works out for us."

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