Tanner McEvoy was a star quarterback in junior college last season and signed with Wisconsin with every intention of competing for the Badgers' starting quarterback job. So of course now he is the team's starting safety, earning his first start last week vs. Northwestern. And he's 6-foot-6.
I recently caught up with McEvoy to talk about his unusual transition for this week's Friday Q&A:
So you're the starting safety for Wisconsin. Is there any way you could have ever imagined being described that way?
Tanner McEvoy: (Laughs.) No. I don't think anyone could have.
Can you walk us through how this whole thing happened and when this opportunity first came up?
TM: Well, it's kind of related to an injury. I hurt my wrist a bit [in preseason practice], and I had to get a screw in it. And that meant that I obviously couldn't take a snap. So they put me at receiver, and I was starting to make some strides in that area, but I realized it was just too much, trying to make catches with a cast and stuff. So my last shot, honestly, was when I talked to the coaches and they said they'd give me a shot over at safety. After a week or so, it started to click and we got more and more plays in. I guess that's kind of how that all started.
When you made the move, did you think you'd be playing at Ohio State and starting against Northwestern?
TM: I always had high hopes for myself. I always want to be the best I can be. I wanted to be on the field and I thought I could. That's why I went over there. So I thought I could get on the field pretty quick, and it seems like it has worked out for everyone.
What's been the biggest adjustment for you?
TM: Just offense/defense; it's been a pretty big adjustment. But playing free safety, I'm mostly a center fielder. Just trying to not let anything get past me and make plays on the ball. I think that's what I kind of bring to the table, just being a bigger person. I don't know how many 6-6 safeties there are this year, but it can't be a high number. So it's been fun. I'm just trying to get back there and make some plays.
I was impressed how physical you played, especially against Ohio State. Was that something you had to develop going to defense, or was it a mindset you already had?
TM: I've always kind of had that. Playing safety back in high school and wide receiver, it's a physical sport. You have to have that mindset at quarterback -- though maybe the NFL guys slide more. But I'm all for it. I like being physical. It's fun being the one hitting the person instead of getting hit, you know?
Being 6-foot-6, does that provide any advantages as a safety?
TM: I don't really have much to compare it to, because I've always been this height. But it is easier seeing the ball, I guess, come off the quarterback's hand and you can see the quarterback's eyes. And when the ball's in the air, I'm usually taller than the person I'm going against. So I guess that helps.
When did you feel like you started to get this position down?
TM: I only got a couple of snaps against Purdue, just kind of like third-and-longs. Then that week before Ohio State, we really got after it in practice. I think that's when I started coming into the role. That game, we started to rotate [safeties] every series.
Coming into the year, the secondary seemed to be a concern, as you had a lot of youth and inexperience back there. Things seem to be going well right now. How has that group developed throughout the season?
TM: We knew we had a great group back there. We've got some younger guys but we've got Dez [Southward], and he's an older guy who's kind of been there. We're starting to come into our own, and I think the whole defense is after that Northwestern win. I'm just looking forward to keeping this thing rolling.
You play this week at Illinois, a team that likes to pass the ball a lot. What challenges are you expecting in this game?
TM: They've got a lot of athletes on their team at the skill positions, and they do a bunch of stuff. So we've got to be prepared for everything they'll throw at us and kind of keep the same thing going as we had against Northwestern. Just keep rolling, and just try to make some more turnovers. That's kind of been our theme the last couple weeks. I'm trying to get my first pick. I know the rest of the DBs are, too. Sojourn [Shelton] has three. So we're trying to join the board. We can't leave him all alone.
When I talked to you this summer, you didn't seem to have any interest in switching positions. Was it ever hard to accept this move?
TM: With my injury, I realized it had to happen. I hate sitting on the bench and watching things. I really wanted to play. So I accepted it. Obviously, the first couple of minutes I was like, shoot, I'm not going to get to play quarterback. But that just comes with an injury. But then I changed my mindset and the coaches supported me, so we rolled with it like that.
Do you see this as a permanent move, or do you still think you can compete for the quarterback job next year?
TM: No, I still think I'm a quarterback. I still think the coaches think I'm a quarterback. And I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out on that front. We'll see.
On an unrelated note, you redshirted at South Carolina two years ago. Ever go up against Jadeveon Clowney as a scout-team quarterback?
TM: Every day. I was the scout-team quarterback and it was Clowney's freshman year. And they had Melvin Ingram, who was a very good defensive player, too. I played against them every day.
Ever get steamrolled by those guys?
TM: No, they were actually all nice to me since I played quarterback, and I was friendly to them. They were nice and didn't try to kill me too bad. I can't say the same for our running backs or the receivers.