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Badgers football: Impressive transition for quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy

2013-10-15T11:10:00Z Badgers football: Impressive transition for quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoyTOM MULHERN | Wisconsin State Journal | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

As sophomore Tanner McEvoy takes in the view from his still-new position of free safety for the University of Wisconsin football team, a variety of thoughts race through his mind.

Foremost among them would seem to be, “What am I doing here?” and “How did I get here?” but that’s not the case.

“Some weird things run through my mind when I’m sitting back there,” McEvoy said.

As a former wide receiver, McEvoy will pick up small details about the receivers and where they are lined up.

As a former quarterback, he might steal a glance at the signal-caller and see if he can pick up anything from his body language.

“The way some of the receivers align, what the quarterback’s mannerisms are, just little things like that I might pick up on,” McEvoy said.

McEvoy’s unique background has made for a quicker-than-expected transition to defense. The junior-college transfer arrived as a quarterback, then played some wide receiver late in preseason camp before an injury to his left wrist/hand required surgery and resulted in a move to safety.

In the past three games, McEvoy has gone from playing around a half-dozen plays against Purdue in third-and-long situations to alternating series against Ohio State to starting and playing most of the game against Northwestern last week.

Following the 35-6 win over the Wildcats, UW coach Gary Andersen described the 6-foot-6, 223-pound McEvoy as “a serious presence in the middle of the field.”

“I’m really proud of that kid,” Andersen said. “You want to talk about just finding a way to get himself on the field.”

It’s already a remarkable story and Andersen can’t wait to see where it leads.

Andersen had little idea what he was getting after moving McEvoy, who had only a limited background at safety. He played wide receiver in high school at Bergen Catholic in Oradell, N.J., prior to moving to quarterback as a senior.

“We just didn’t want to waste a year with a broken hand if we didn’t have to at the quarterback position,” Andersen said on Monday. “… The move was really the last opportunity for him to have some success.”

Of course, it never would have worked if McEvoy didn’t embrace it as he has.

“The key was Tanner accepting it,” Andersen said. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s why, in my mind, it is such a great story. … He could easily have gone into a shell and said, ‘Woe is me,’ and, ‘Why has this happened to me?’ And everything else that could come with it that you see a lot in sports. But he had none of it.”

McEvoy always considered himself an all-around football player, so switching positions wasn’t a big deal to him.

“Ever since I started playing football, I always played everything,” he said. “I’ve played a bunch of positions. It’s not too much of a curveball.

“I’m just here to help the team win and whatever they need me to do, I’m here for it. I’m all for it.”

McEvoy’s impressive package of size, speed and athleticism helps him stand out at whatever position he plays.

“You knew right off the bat, when he came in this summer, he’s a great athlete,” senior linebacker Chris Borland said. “It seems like everything comes easily to him. The switch from quarterback to receiver to DB, he’s excelled at all of them.

“He’s really adding a dimension to our defense that maybe was lacking at times. He’s a playmaker.”

McEvoy showed that right away after moving to safety, intercepting about 15 passes in practice, according to the coaches. Even more impressive was the way McEvoy picked up the mental side.

“That’s not an easy position to play,” Andersen said. “Mentally, to go over there and grasp it as quick as he has and be able to get into a game like Northwestern — with all of that offense — to be able to deal with is a true credit to the kid and a true credit to his position coach, Bill Busch, for getting him ready.”

McEvoy’s future looks so bright at safety it has led to questions about whether he should return to quarterback when healthy. Although he can’t take snaps because of the cast, he was throwing some passes after a practice not too long ago.

“I’m still playing quarterback, once I’m healthy and things are right,” McEvoy said. “I still throw after practice every now and then. That’s really it, just to get the motion (down).”

He hasn’t been in a quarterback meeting since the end of preseason camp, prior to the surgery. But he still watches both offensive and defensive video, which is fairly unique.

McEvoy is enough of a football fan that when the Badgers had a bye two weekends ago, he went to Chicago for a couple days with wide receiver Chase Hammond and sat in the stands for the Northwestern-Ohio State game in Evanston, Ill.

What McEvoy is doing could be viewed as a significant sacrifice, putting his quarterback dreams on hold — for now. But he doesn’t view it that way.

“These guys are all great guys,” he said. “They don’t need to come up and pat me on the back and say, ‘Thanks.’ I don’t think that’s necessary. I didn’t sacrifice too much, I just want to get out on the field and play with these guys and help us win.”

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(4) Comments

  1. s-owen
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    s-owen - October 16, 2013 9:18 pm
    If one questions this transition, the model for this QB to Safety switch would be Brad van Pelt (Sr.) who played at Michigan State in 70's. An all state high school QB, 6'5" (great athlete and exceptional in baseball and basketball. He played college football at Michigan State where he was a two-time All-American at safety, in 1971 and 1972 and also won the Maxwell Award as the nation's best player, the first time a defensive back won the award. Played for New York Giants, earning five Pro Bowl selections at linebacker between 1976 to 1980 during his ten years with the team. I watched him at Michigan State when I was in high school in East Lansing.

    So McEvoy may be the next Brad van Pelt (father of Bradley van Pelt the Colorado State QB and backup QB for the Denver Broncos for a couple years.) For a better idea of how good Brad van Pelt was see the Wikipedia link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Van_Pelt
  2. badgerfan19
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    badgerfan19 - October 15, 2013 7:16 pm
    He still would be more valuable at WR, especially as a red zone specialist. He might be an ok deep-ball defensive back, but from what I've seen on film and him being 6'6" with long lanky legs, he just doesn't have the lateral quickness to be a complete safety. There is a reason why most safeties aren't that tall. Now that his hand is healed, time to move him back to WR where his ceiling is MUCH higher.
  3. gorman
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    gorman - October 15, 2013 4:20 pm
    Gotta second what the Gotch says. Just love his attitude.
  4. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - October 14, 2013 7:26 pm
    LOVE this move!! Bucky has had some great players at safety; none anywhere near his size.

    Tall, athletic, HUGE wingspan; guy can cover a lot of ground just standing still.

    Part of these new (and developing) Aranda blitz packages will be someone 6' 6" bearing down on a QB waving his arms.

    You think teams are going to want McEvoy prowling in the end zone when they're trying to throw it in?

    IMHO; the biggest plus is he WANTS to get on the field and will switch positions to so do.

    GO BADGERS!!!

    The Gotch
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