Replacing a quarterback can be like replacing the tires on your car or the hard drive in your computer. Doing so tends to be tedious and stressful, but if you do it right, you can ultimately get the whole operation rolling again in due time.
After coming within three points of a Rose Bowl victory last season, the Wisconsin Badgers find themselves in that exact situation. After last year’s starting quarterback, Scott Tolzien, graduated, the Badgers found themselves facing an offseason that promised remarkable change.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jon Budmayr has been waiting in the wings ever since Tolzien earned the starting job in 2009. He has a leg up on the competition this spring thanks to enrolling a semester early and Curt Phillips’ continuing recovery from ACL surgery.
But simply inserting Budmayr or any other quarterback straight into the starting lineup is anything but simple. Tolzien set UW single-season records in completion percentage (.729) and efficiency (165.8) in 2010, and he finished his career with the school records in both, as well. Tolzien also earned a reputation as a stickler for sound preparation and for having an astounding knowledge of Wisconsin’s offense.
So, how will Budmayr ever begin to fill Tolzien’s shoes? Who exactly is he, and is he built to withstand the pressure that comes with replacing a second-team All-Big Ten, team-MVP quarterback?
Luckily for the Badgers, if Budmayr garners comparisons to any one player, it’s Tolzien himself.
“They’re kind of like the same person; I think that Scotty just has a [few] years on him,” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis said. “At quarterback, that’s a huge position to just have years. You just have to play it to learn. That’s just the one thing Scotty had on him.”
Tolzien also has a little more height on Budmayr, as he was listed as three inches taller than the latter’s 6-foot frame. Both are 205 pounds, but to many people who see Budmayr in person, the disparity seems larger. Fortunately for Budmayr, he already has a reputation as having a dangerously powerful throwing arm.
“Budmayr, he can throw a bullet,” redshirt junior center Peter Konz said. “It’s so weird, because he might not be the strongest guy of his position group – or of the special teams. He looks so small, but he can pack a punch. I don’t know how he does it, but he can definitely throw the long ball and he can throw a sharp pass.”
Budmayr’s throwing prowess was never more on display at Wisconsin than it was last November. Leading the Indiana Hoosiers 69-13 in the fourth quarter, the Badgers subbed Budmayr in for Tolzien. The Woodstock, Ill. native quickly responded on just his third pass attempt of the day, throwing a high-arcing spiral off his back foot to Abbrederis, who ultimately caught and ran the ball into the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown.
At the time, the play was largely lost in the midst of yet another Wisconsin blowout. But in hindsight, it should have been a hint at the undeniable talent Budmayr possesses.
“Actually, I just talked to Scotty and he was like, ‘Budmayr might even be two years ahead of me, knowledge-wise, than when I was his age,’” Konz said when asked to compare the two. “That was pretty great to hear Scott say that.”
Tolzien may be quick to tout his former backup’s abilities – Budmayr said the two stay in touch and talk on the phone at least once every couple of weeks – but one thing he doesn’t have to address is the inevitable comparisons of the duo’s personalities.
As soft-spoken and laid back as Tolzien was, Budmayr is even more so. Konz used the word “reserved” to describe Budmayr’s disposition and then immediately broke into his trademark hearty cackle, as if to indicate the gross understatement he had just made.
Unmoved by the characterization offered by a lineman five inches and 108 pounds larger, Budmayr agreed, and then offered up a more detailed analysis of his character.
“Kind of ever since I’ve been younger, I’ve been a leader by example,” Budmayr said. “Being kind of quiet, a more shy kid, I’m not as talkative. Obviously, that’s a role that I’ll have to embrace here. When the opportunity presents itself, if I need to say something, then [I'll] do that.”
Like most highly successful high school quarterbacks, Budmayr’s numbers support his leadership claims. After leading Marian Central Catholic to the state final in his sophomore year, Budmayr was named team MVP, first-team all-area and all-conference with 1,193 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
His junior year, Budmayr once again excelled, throwing for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns – in six fewer games. He missed the duration of his senior season due to injury to little consequence, as he was named the No. 1 quarterback and No. 10 overall player in Illinois, as well as the 17th-best pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com.
So while concerns may arise regarding the portion of time Budmayr has spent away from big-time moments on the field, the Badgers’ new signal caller has every reason to dismiss them.
“The only thing you lose there is the game reps,” Budmayr said of backing up Tolzien for two years. “Those are obviously very important, but at that same time, you can take mental reps each time you’re out on the field, whether it’s a game or practice. That’s kind of what I’ve had to do the last few years; that’s been my role. Now, it’s just taking what I’ve learned through those mental reps and applying it to the field.”
Given the firepower returning to Madison this year – running back sensations Montee Ball and James White are back, while Konz will anchor an offensive line that once again figures to be among the nation’s best – some of the pressure traditionally heaped upon rookie quarterbacks figures to be assuaged.
Regardless, Budmayr is aware of the expectations surrounding UW’s quest for a return to Pasadena, and standing at the helm of it all, he’s prepared win the starting job and steer the ship.
“Honestly, it’s just an opportunity, and I need to embrace that,” Budmayr said. “That’s for every guy competing for this. We embrace that opportunity; we’ve all been blessed with a pretty neat one here. Now, it’s just about getting better and doing the best we can for our team and making the team successful.”