Photos/Associated Press & uwbadgers.com
Tanner McEvoy wants to play quarterback but he's Wisconsin's starting safety right now.
'I see myself at quarterback'
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - It will be a jam-packed quarterback competition come spring and likely next fall for the University of Wisconsin. Not only will incumbent Joel Stave have to fend off redshirt freshman Bart Houston, true freshman Conor Senger and incoming recruit D.J. Gillins, he’ll also have to beat out sophomore Tanner McEvoy.
The 6-foot-5 McEvoy transferred in from Arizona Western College last summer as a dual-threat quarterback and competed with Stave and Curt Phillips during fall camp. But learning a third different offense in as many years left him overwhelmed with information and that led to being a split-second late on his reads. So in an effort to get such a good athlete on the field, the Badgers moved him to wide receiver. He played against Massachusetts in the season-opener but a broken hand ended that experiment. So, the staff asked him to move to safety and he gladly accepted the challenge.
“I’ve got to take the opportunity that I get at whatever they tell me,” McEvoy said. “They wanted me to play safety and I was all for it. I’d rather be on the field making a play than on the sideline signaling them in.”
But there was always a caveat.
“Once I made the switch to defense we made it known that I was going to go back to quarterback when the opportunity came,” McEvoy said.
That opportunity came this week in the form of developmental practices that were focused solely on the young players. And so for the first time since early September, McEvoy was wearing the black jersey of a quarterback and looking much more comfortable in that jersey. While he still had a few errant throws he also flipped a number of deep balls that were right on the money, including a 42-yard strike to wide receiver Rob Wheelwright.
“I think I threw the ball pretty well,” McEvoy said. “I think anyone can say they’d always want a play or two back but I felt like I played pretty well. I’m looking forward to next spring but right now (the focus) is on January 1st.”
That’s when the Badgers will play in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina -- the school where McEvoy started his college career.
“I’m still good friends with a lot of the guys down there,” said McEvoy. “I was a quarterback there, too, so it’s funny that I’m playing defense against the offense.”
McEvoy went to Columbia, S.C., in 2011 as a 3-star recruit after just one year of playing quarterback at Bergen Catholic High School in Hillsdale, N.J. He redshirted as a true freshman and decided to transfer after finding himself fifth on the depth chart following spring practice in 2012. A stop out west saw him earn All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference offensive player of the year.
“I’m glad he’s doing well at Wisconsin,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I know a lot of our guys will look forward to seeing him down in Orlando.”
His knowledge of Spurrier’s system has led some to think he may be able to lend a hand to defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as they prepare for the Gamecocks and their senior quarterback Connor Shaw.
“I’ve learned two more offenses on top of (South Carolina),” McEvoy said, “so there’s some things that I notice, but I can do that with any film just seeing a route pattern, ‘OK , that’s going to be that.’ I know Coach Aranda is a big film guy. He’s a smart guy that can figure stuff out on his own.”
Figuring out what he’s supposed to be doing at safety has been a process for McEvoy. Prior to this year he hadn’t played on defense since his junior year of high school in 2009.
“I’ve made strides,” McEvoy said. “It was a new position. It was a new side of the ball for me. Each week I’ve felt more and more comfortable and it’s been nine or ten weeks now since that, so I’ve gotten more and more comfortable in the position.”
One of the biggest changes was the physical nature of the game. Instead of the one being hit, McEvoy was dishing them out, finishing the regular season with 24 tackles.
“Especially playing quarterback you don’t get hit at all in practice and now I’m doing tackling drills,” McEvoy said. “They still poke jokes at me every now and then but I feel like I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
McEvoy will be switching back-and-forth from offense to defense during bowl practices. That’s something UW coach Gary Andersen thinks he can handle – and deserves.
“He’s going to compete as we move through time here at the quarterback spot. He came here to be a quarterback,” Andersen said. “Tanner deserves that right and this is an opportunity for him to get out there and play in these practices. He’ll do it. We’ll have about 16 opportunities for those young kids to compete and he’ll do that at quarterback, and then he does go right back to safety when the travel kids start practicing. He’s our starting safety for now.”
But will he be that next fall? McEvoy believes he’ll get a legitimate shot at the quarterback job.
“I see myself at quarterback,” McEvoy said.
But does he think it’s his best position?
“Yeah, I think so.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin