The success sophomore Tanner McEvoy has had at safety for the University of Wisconsin football team this season has not changed one fundamental fact: He came here to play quarterback.
McEvoy made that clear in an interview this week after getting a chance to go back to quarterback for a couple of practices, which were devoted to mostly young players and backups.
“Just taking an opportunity to throw the ball around with these guys,” said McEvoy, who did not have any extensive work at quarterback since preseason camp. “I want to play quarterback next year. Coaches know that. I think coaches want me to compete at that position. That’s where I see myself playing. It was just fun to get out there and throw the ball around.”
McEvoy wasn’t sure how many more chances he will get during bowl practices to line up under center. He will be at safety for the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina on Jan. 1. But UW coach Gary Andersen said any future periods devoted to young players would include McEvoy at quarterback.
“I put him in there with the younger kids,” Andersen said. “He’ll continue to do that. … He’s going to compete, as we move through time here, at the quarterback spot. He came here to be a quarterback. He’ll finish the year as the starting safety.”
McEvoy, 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, arrived last summer as a highly regarded junior college transfer. He quickly fell behind sophomore Joel Stave and sixth-year senior Curt Phillips in the battle to be the starting quarterback. In an effort to make use of his impressive physical skills, McEvoy was moved to wide receiver late in preseason camp. But an injury to his left wrist, which required surgery, ended that experiment.
So McEvoy moved to safety, a position he played prior to his senior year in high school at Bergen Catholic in Oradell, N.J. He played so well, making three starts, it led to speculation he might wind up there permanently. But the Badgers need to develop competition at quarterback for Stave, who has had an up-and-down season.
D.J. Gillins, a three-star recruit from Jacksonville, Fla., has given an oral commitment as part of UW’s 2014 recruiting class. He recently said he will enroll in January and go through spring drills.
But the best hope for finding someone to compete with Stave is likely redshirt freshman Bart Houston, currently the No. 3 quarterback, or McEvoy.
“We’ll do everything we can, just like every position, I always say, continually try and create competition,” Andersen said. “Tanner deserves that right. This is an opportunity for him to get out there and play (quarterback) in these practices. … He’ll do that at quarterback, then he does go right back to safety when our main guys, the travel kids, start practicing. He’s our starting safety for now.”
McEvoy is a dual-threat quarterback, which is something the current coaching staff has said it ideally wants at the position. He arrived with a reputation as a better runner than passer, but he couldn’t show much in fall camp while getting comfortable in the offense.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” McEvoy said. “I knew what I had to do. It’s just kind of how things worked out. I’m happy where I am. We’re still winning. Joel’s doing a great job and I have no problem with it. I’m just excited to get out there against the old team.”
The bowl game against South Carolina in Orlando, Fla., has special meaning for McEvoy, given he signed with the Gamecocks out of high school. He redshirted in 2011, but traveled to the 2012 Capital One Bowl, which South Carolina won, 30-13, over Nebraska.
After being buried on the depth chart the spring after his redshirt year at South Carolina, McEvoy transferred to Arizona Western College. He started at quarterback for one year, before transferring to UW.
McEvoy said he follows several South Carolina players on social media. The ones he keeps in contact with via texts include offensive lineman Mike Matulis, wide receiver Damiere Byrd and punter Patrick Fish.
“I had a pretty good hunch we were going to play them,” McEvoy said. “So, I was excited when it finally became official. A couple guys from the team down there texted me. It’s going to be a fun week. Orlando is a great place. There’s a lot of fun stuff to do, both teams, they do a lot together. It’ll be exciting to hang out with a couple old buddies.”
One of the reasons McEvoy knew he wouldn’t get a chance to play anytime soon at South Carolina was the presence of Connor Shaw, now a senior who is in his third year as the starter. He has thrown for 2,135 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, with one interception. He has also rushed for 511 yards and five TDs.
“He’s been through a lot of games, a lot of situations,” McEvoy said. “He limits his mistakes and knows how to move the ball down the field and win games.
“He’s a savvy, athletic, versatile player. We’ve got to prepare for most anything.”
McEvoy was happy to get on the field and contribute this season, even though nobody expected it to happen at safety.
“It’s more fun playing on the field than signaling in plays,” he said.
McEvoy knows it will be an important offseason and spring for him and he plans to do everything he can to compete for the starting quarterback job next season.
He smiled when it was noted he threw the ball well in his first day back at quarterback. During practices, he would occasionally throw during special teams sessions, when the quarterbacks do footwork drills. He also spent a few days recently inside the McClain Center, throwing to teammates.
“I can still throw it a little bit,” he said. “So we’ll see how things turn out. But I’m looking forward to (playing quarterback).”
Arizona juco commits
Eastern Arizona College sophomore Serge Trezy gave an oral commitment to Andersen and UW defensive backs coach Bill Busch on Thursday, BadgerNation.com reported.
The 6-1, 190-pound native of Orlando, Fla, became the 25th commitment for the 2014 recruiting class.
Trezy picked UW over Cincinnati, Ball State, Baylor, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Iowa State, Memphis and Washington State among others.
Trezy, who rushed for 814 yards this year, is expected to be a return specialist and defensive back with the Badgers. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds.
He told the Orlando Sentinel he would like a chance to prove himself as a running back at UW — “How I see it is, if I get a chance and if I work for it, there ain’t no doubt,” he said — but knows his future is mainly on the defensive side of the ball.
“I will be playing safety at Wisconsin and they said they can use me anywhere on the field,” he told BadgerNation.
Trezy took an official visit to Madison for the regular-season finale against Penn State.
“I had a great time out there,” he told BadgerNation. “The players showed a lot of love and it felt like a big family.”