MADISON, Wis. — When Bart Houston arrived on Wisconsin’s campus two years ago, he figured his shot to be the team’s starting quarterback would come in due time. Work hard, make smart decisions and accurate throws and the rest would fall into place.
But that has not happened for Houston, a one-time four-star prospect from De La Salle High School in California. And now, the redshirt sophomore finds himself on the outside looking in at a quarterback race that is between Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave.
Houston completed 3 of 4 passes for 19 yards during the second half of the team’s spring game on Saturday. Afterward, however, head coach Gary Andersen made it clear that Houston was not in the running for the starting role.
"It’s the way it went," Andersen said. "Bart is a tremendous young man, he’s a tremendous kid, but he’s not in the fight right now for the starting quarterback position.
"We’ll see what that brings for the future, but he’s a vital part to this program and will continue to be, and he’s kept a good attitude. There’s a lot that goes into that as far as like any position battle with who’s in first place, who’s in second place, I guess you could say. We’ll just keep moving down the lines, and those two kids are going to get most of the reps in the fall — those two being Tanner and obviously Joel."
Houston did not have a particularly poor spring. But he also does not necessarily fit the system Wisconsin’s coaching staff appears to be looking for. Stave is a pocket passer like Houston, except Stave already has 19 starts to his name. McEvoy is a dual-threat quarterback, which seems to match the interests of the coaching staff.
"Everybody wants to be No. 1, and I want to be No. 1," Houston said. "But coming out, it looks like Tanner is No. 1 from what the reps were given. Joel’s hurt, and he’ll get his shot in the fall. My big goal was to just get better day by day. I had a little slump right in the middle of spring but got better from there, worked through it, drove through it."
Houston was ranked as Scout.com’s No. 7 quarterback in the country out of high school. He threw for 5,178 yards and 46 touchdowns during his career and was one of the most highly regarded prep quarterbacks ever to come to Wisconsin. He took a redshirt season in 2012 while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. And in 2013, Houston was the team’s third-string quarterback behind Stave and then-senior Curt Phillips.
Houston said he thought he performed well at the beginning and end of spring camp, though he struggled at times in the middle. He noted his falling behind had nothing to do with grasping the offense.
"It was more trying to do more than what I can do," Houston said. "So it’s kind of mental. Trying to force a ball here or there. I’ve got the arm to do it, but if the guy’s not open, the guy’s not open. You’ve just got to be a little smarter, and I’m going to be working on that this summer."
Many players with the high school accolades earned by Houston would consider transferring to earn playing time elsewhere. But Houston insisted he had no interest in making such a change.
"No, I’m not doing any of that," Houston said. "I love this place. I came here for the school, for the experience."
Instead, he remains steadfast in his determination to make a run at Wisconsin’s starting quarterback job, even if the odds appear stacked against him.
"I’m going to go out there, give it my best, day by day in the summer," Houston said. "Fall camp rolls around, I’ll be a different quarterback."
Lewis gone: Wisconsin running back Jeff Lewis has opted to transfer, Andersen said. He is expected to graduate in the spring and will be eligible to play immediately for one season under the NCAA’s graduate transfer exception rule.
"I talked to Jeff a couple weeks ago in the weight room, and he has actually not been in the winter conditioning since we started school again," Andersen said. "He wants to play somewhere, and I’m in the process of helping him get to a spot where he wants to be able to go play football. That was decided really even before the bowl game. That’s something he wants to do.
"He’s going to get his degree, so I’ve allowed him to get to school, get his degree, allow him to work out and get himself in a position to transfer. He wants to play tailback, and I think he’s a tremendous kid, and I need to give him that opportunity to go play tailback somewhere his senior year."
During his college career, Lewis has been buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. He switched to safety last fall to try and earn time on the field but ultimately moved back to scout team running back.
In his career, Lewis has 40 carries for 202 yards with two touchdowns.