After starting the entire season last fall, it seemed generally accepted that Joel Stave would retain his starting quarterback position next season for the Wisconsin football team. Although that might be the logical expectation, that’s not to say that Stave’s job is anywhere near safe. Among those gunning for the starting job is redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy.
McEvoy is one of four quarterbacks seeing decent time so far this spring besides Stave, early enrollee DJ Gillins and junior Bart Houston.
Although the four quarterbacks may be showcasing their quarterbacking abilities during spring practice, they are also demonstrating their leadership abilities in controlling the offense and commanding the huddle as senior offensive lineman Rob Havenstein explained.
“They all know how to get the offense running. It does start with the quarterback. It is his huddle. I like to chime in there every now and then but at the end of the day what he says goes. If I say something, he might kind of brush it off. But if he says something, the whole offense has got to do something,” Havenstein said.
The three other quarterbacks have had fairly direct paths to Wisconsin, but McEvoy has taken the route much less traveled. He started his journey off at South Carolina in 2011 and after spending his freshman season and the subsequent spring with the Gamecocks, he elected to transfer to Arizona Western Community College. McEvoy spent a season at Arizona Western and then last spring decided to transfer again to come to Wisconsin after getting recruited by then-new head coach Gary Andersen.
After being unable to make it to Wisconsin until the summer, McEvoy was hampered in his ability to become acclimated to the program before jumping headfirst into the quarterback competition during fall camp.
“In the summer, it’s a new school transferring in. Obviously, anyone has that kind of [nervous] feeling, but I wouldn’t blame it on that. I didn’t feel that uncomfortable when I was here when I first got here at all. That’s why I came here. It’s an easy group of guys to get along with,” McEvoy said.
When Stave earned the starting spot in fall camp last season, McEvoy continued to practice at quarterback during the beginning weeks of the season. Then misfortune struck when McEvoy injured his wrist, adding another obstacle to his path. Unable to take snaps, McEvoy got bumped to wide receiver and saw time in the first game of the season against Massachusetts at wide out.
After the results came back from the x-ray on his wrist, McEvoy underwent surgery to repair it and ended up sitting out for several weeks waiting to heal. In the meantime though, McEvoy path again turned as he was asked if we wanted to try safety. After obliging, just weeks later he found himself playing safety at Ohio Stadium against the Buckeyes, certainly not where anyone expected to see him when he originally committed.
McEvoy finished the season off at safety, but the whole time knew that come this spring he would be back in the mix for the quarterback job.
In just under a year since Wisconsin, those around McEvoy, including Havenstein, have seen some major growth, which should benefit him in the quarterback race.
“He’s got a lot more confidence back there calling the play like he means it like he’s been doing it 15 years calling that same play,” he said.
“I think he’s got a great understanding of the playbook, the checks and what not. He’s really commanded it so far and kind of getting little details, ins and outs, the niches of the offense and I think it’s helping him out tremendously. He can walk up, make protection checks, get us in the right spot to be able to get him the better throw and if they’re bringing pressure, if we can pick it up, our guys on the outside, Tanner has the ability to get there on time and on point. That creates big plays.”
After playing safety most of last season, McEvoy hasn’t had much time to practice with the quarterbacks and didn’t really get a chance to practice with them until the end of the season. But simply being around the Badger program for almost a year now has allowed McEvoy the opportunity to become increasingly familiar with the subtleties of the program and, more importantly, the play book.
The confidence Havenstein discussed plays off being around the program for a longer period of time and has contributed into how McEvoy has performed so far this spring, according to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
“When he came to us in June last year everything was new going into the whole program for the first time. He started back at quarterback during the bowl preparation period. He was much more relaxed and comfortable in what he was doing and it’s paying off for all of us right now,” Ludwig said.
Plenty of time still stands between now and the start of next season, but having the opportunity to participate in spring practice this season gives McEvoy a head start he didn’t have the luxury of this time last year.
That factors, coupled with having a year under his belt with Wisconsin, should give the quarterback heralded for his dual threat potential coming into the program last year a quality shot at the starting position come next fall. Only time will tell what the future holds and what path his football career will take next.
“All four guys are putting their best foot forward and that’s only going to make us better as a team. One guy steps up and makes a big throw, the rest of them want to step up and make a bigger throw or two bigger throws. It’s really going to help us out in the end,” Havenstein said.