MADISON, Wis. — An already crowded quarterback room at Wisconsin next fall officially became even more congested on Wednesday, when Tanner McEvoy faxed his letter of intent to the Badgers on National Signing Day. And if McEvoy has his way, he won’t be coming simply to take up more space.
He’ll be arriving on campus with the purpose of taking away the starting quarterback job.
“The new coaches coming in, them rotating three quarterbacks last year, they were looking for a quarterback to come in and compete and hopefully start,” McEvoy said Wednesday. “That’s what I’m trying to do is just get down there, learn the offense as best I can and just compete with those guys and see where it takes us.”
Who is McEvoy, and how did he become the sixth quarterback put on scholarship at Wisconsin?
McEvoy is a 6-foot-6, 215-pound dual-threat signal caller who might just be the most intriguing player in Wisconsin’s Class of 2013. A native of Hillsdale, N.J., McEvoy spent one full season as a redshirt quarterback at South Carolina before transferring to Arizona Western College in Yuma, Ariz. He left South Carolina near the start of fall camp in 2012 when it became apparent he wouldn’t play for at least the next two seasons.
While at Arizona Western, McEvoy became one of the top junior college quarterbacks in the country, passing for 1,943 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 414 yards and scored six touchdowns and was named first-team all conference.
“He’s kind of had to fight his way back,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “He has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He’s got a lot of want-to in him.”
What makes McEvoy particularly intriguing to Wisconsin is his ability to escape the pocket and run. It is unclear how much the Badgers will utilize the read-option under Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, but both men value having a mobile quarterback. Last season when Andersen and Ludwig were at Utah State, Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton carried 129 times for 619 yards and eight touchdowns.
As a means of comparison, the three quarterbacks to start games last season for Wisconsin — Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips — combined to carry 61 times for minus-34 yards. Only Phillips finished the season with positive rushing yards.
“We just want to create competition,” Andersen said of adding McEvoy. “He brings an added dimension to the quarterback position with his ability to be able to run that is a positive. Does that mean he’s the starting quarterback? No. The best guy will be whoever performs and leads the team the best way.”
In addition to his running ability, McEvoy’s upside as a quarterback appears to be tremendous because he has only played the position for three years. While at Bergren Catholic High School in New Jersey, he played wide receiver and defensive back until his senior season. When he switched to quarterback, he passed for 2,264 yards with 32 touchdowns, rushed for 1,196 yards with 14 touchdowns and was named the 2010 New Jersey Offensive Player of the Year.
“I guess you could say I was more of an athlete,” said McEvoy, who is in his hometown of Hillsdale, N.J., until he arrives on Wisconsin’s campus in June for summer classes. “But I had some great coaches in high school. At South Carolina, I had (Steve) Spurrier and those guys, and they were all great. In junior college, I had another good coordinator. Each year I learned the most I can, and I just keep getting better.”
McEvoy visited Madison last Tuesday and stayed until Thursday. Although he didn’t meet any of the quarterbacks, he said he spent time with members of the offensive line and running back group and came away impressed with the team and the city. Four days later, he committed to Wisconsin over offers from Florida, Oregon and West Virginia.
This marks the third straight year in which Wisconsin has brought in a transfer quarterback. The last two, Russell Wilson and O’Brien, arrived at Wisconsin as graduate transfers. Wilson had just one year of eligibility remaining, while O’Brien had two. McEvoy, on the other hand, will have three years of eligibility remaining because he is transferring after playing one junior college season.
If he is to become the starter, McEvoy will have to beat out more than Phillips, O’Brien and Stave — a daunting enough task as it is. Jon Budmayr also is expected to return after sitting out the past two seasons with nerve damage in his throwing elbow. And highly touted redshirt freshman quarterback Bart Houston, out of De La Salle High School in California, also will be in the mix for playing time.
Andersen said injury history among Wisconsin’s current crop of quarterbacks was a significant factor in pursuing McEvoy. Phillips, who started the team’s final five games last season, missed two straight years with ACL injuries. Stave broke his right collarbone against Michigan State in October and missed the rest of the season. And Budmayr hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 27, 2010.
McEvoy said he was grateful for the Badgers’ interest. And he’s ready to make an impact when fall practices begin.
“I just wanted to get back to Division I as fast as I could,” McEvoy said. “I had the opportunity to come, so why not take it and spend as many years as I can at this level and see where it takes me?”