If you think the quarterback situation was crowded and full of mystery now, just wait until June when junior college quarterback Tanner McEvoy comes to campus.
McEvoy, a transfer from Arizona Western College, was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. According to ESPN, McEvoy was the No. 2 dual-threat junior college quarterback, and in February, he turned down offers from Oregon, Florida and West Virginia to become a Badger.
“I was pretty close to going somewhere else,” McEvoy admitted in a phone interview with The Badger Herald. “I took my time and made all of my visits, but when I came [to Madison] and saw the campus, I knew Wisconsin was the best fit for me.”
Being able to forge relationships with some of the coaches — including secondary coach Bill Busch and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Andy Ludwig — during his visit was also a huge plus for the New Jersey native.
“Coach Busch was my original recruiter,” McEvoy said. “During my visit I met with coach Ludwig and then with [head] coach [Gary] Andersen. They all seem like great coaches and even better people so that really attracted me to coming here.”
The 6-foot-6, 215 pound dual-threat quarterback won Offensive Player of the Year honors this past season in Arizona Western’s conference, the Western States Football League. McEvoy used his unique skill set to complete 63 percent of his passes — tops in the WSFL — for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns, second-best in the league, against six interceptions to go along with 72 rushes for 414 yards and six touchdowns for the Matadors last season.
“He’s an athletic guy with good arm strength who provides a great dynamic,” Ludwig said of McEvoy. “We need a passer who has the ‘escapability’ and the ability to extend plays. If a quarterback has the ability to do some running within the system then that’s a huge plus.”
His ability to extend plays is what allowed for McEvoy to be successful at the junior college level.
“He can run and make plays with his feet,” Arizona Western head coach Tom Minnick said in a phone interview with The Badger Herald. “We used him in a variety of ways, especially with his feet. He’s such a big guy so it was problematic for defenses.”
While the corporeal attributes are nice, McEvoy will have to prove that he is more than just a physical asset once settled in Madison, as he will be one of five clear options to win the starting job under center. He’s already going to be behind too, since the transfer won’t be able to join his new team until the summer.
“He provides an element that the quarterbacks in the system don’t have right now, but he’s going to have to work his tail off because he’s going to be behind in the system,” Ludwig pointed out. “Guys are going to have a six-month start on him so that puts a guy back a little bit, but we’ve seen it get done.”
And if there’s one thing that McEvoy isn’t afraid of, it’s competition.
“All of the schools I was looking at have good quarterbacks, so I knew no matter where I went that I was going to have to compete,” McEvoy said. “You just have to be confident in yourself and I’m going to try to learn the offense as fast as I can and see where it takes me from there. I’m always trying to win; there’s nothing else.”
Jared Abbrederis, having played with both former Badger transfer quarterback Russell Wilson and current transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien, has seen first hand how a transfer coming in after spring practice can affect the competition.
“I’ve seen the level of competition go up [when someone transfers in] and guys use the competition to make themselves better,” Abbrederis said. “I’m sure that’s what’s going to happen here because we have a lot of talented guys trying to earn that spot.”
McEvoy knows and fully understands that because he is a transfer quarterback who can pick apart defenses with his feet, in addition to his arm, there are naturally going to be those who draw similarities to Wilson and expect the same out of him.
“Russell obviously had some great seasons at NC State prior to his arrival at Wisconsin, and while I had a good season at the junior college ranks, I haven’t done anything at the Division I level yet,” McEvoy noted. “Having said that, I’m going to try to come in and try to compete and hopefully exceed Russell and what he did because I always try to be the best at whatever I do.”
Before he comes anywhere close to having a career comparable to Wilson, McEvoy needs to gain the trust of his teammates and coaches so that he can win the starting job.
“At Arizona [Western], it took a little while to get to know my teammates, but once that happened it started rolling,” McEvoy said. “From the guys that I’ve met so far [at Wisconsin], I don’t think we’ll need that much time so it won’t be a problem for us to start off on the right foot.”
When asked why he thinks McEvoy is going to be successful in the Big Ten, Arizona Western head coach Minnick gave a simple explanation.
“I’ve got a (former) quarterback starting at Indiana [Cam Coffman],” Minnick said, “and Tanner is much better than that kid.”