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.”