Wisconsin WR Tanner McEvoy has found a home after 'crazy' journey


MADISON, Wis. -- A 7-minute, 32-second YouTube video shows the very best of what Tanner McEvoy, wide receiver, has to offer.

There is McEvoy reaching for an underthrown back-shoulder fade in the end zone, falling directly on his back and catching it anyway. See him outleap two defensive backs on a deep hitch and corral the ball before falling out of bounds. Or watch him split the seam up the middle to snare a pass, then juke two opponents while cutting across the field for a score.

Yes, Tanner McEvoy, wide receiver, was pretty darn good -- six years ago.

The relevance of those clips comes into greater focus this week as the Badgers' fifth-year senior is about to get his first full game action as a receiver since that junior season at New Jersey's Bergen Catholic High School in 2009. And it will come against No. 3 Alabama in one of the most significant nonconference games in No. 20 Wisconsin's history (8 p.m. ET Saturday, ABC).

"When you put it in that perspective, my whole journey's been kind of crazy," McEvoy said.

McEvoy last caught a pass in a game on Nov. 21, 2009, during a New Jersey semifinal playoff game. His path since then has been a winding road that has included three positions and three different colleges. It begins with his senior year of high school, when Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile moved McEvoy to quarterback for the first time.

Campanile's pitch to switch positions to McEvoy was simple: You get the ball in your hands five times a game or 55. It seems like 55 would be better for the team.

"He seemed to be pretty into that," Campanile said, "and he pretty much broke every single-season record the school had as a quarterback."

During two high school seasons at receiver, McEvoy caught 65 passes for 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns and had more than a dozen scholarship offers by mid-summer before his senior season. But then McEvoy totaled 3,460 yards and 46 touchdowns passing and rushing as a quarterback and was named the 2010 New Jersey offensive player of the year. With his choice of positions, McEvoy decided he wanted to play quarterback in college.

"He was probably the best receiver in the state and probably the best quarterback in the state," Campanile said.

McEvoy signed with South Carolina in 2011, but got buried on the depth chart and transferred the following spring for one year to Arizona Western College, where he was named the conference's offensive player of the year. He transferred to Wisconsin in 2013, where then-Badgers coach Gary Andersen planned to use him as a dual-threat quarterback.

In his first fall camp, McEvoy fell behind in a three-man quarterback race, briefly moved to wide receiver (he actually lined up for a couple of plays in the season opener against UMass), broke a bone in his wrist and ultimately started 10 games at safety. In 2014, Andersen made a controversial move to start him at quarterback over incumbent starter Joel Stave. After five games, McEvoy was benched and finished the season back at safety.

This season, under first-year coach Paul Chryst, the plan was for McEvoy to play both safety and receiver. But with Wisconsin in desperate need of receiver help, coaches kept him on offense. He performed so well in fall camp that he's running with the first team and his comfort level continues to grow.

Badgers running back Corey Clement described McEvoy as "the X-factor" in Saturday's game against the Crimson Tide.

"Alabama doesn't even know what position he's going to line up at," Clement said. "He could be tight end for all we know."

Wisconsin receivers coach Ted Gilmore said McEvoy has areas to clean up after six years away from the position but that he is learning quickly. He must play as big as his 6-foot-6, 227-pound frame and not allow defensive backs to push him off the line of scrimmage. He also is learning when to transition out of his breaks and how to maintain his stamina.

Still, Gilmore said McEvoy possesses natural instincts in leaning his body on defenders. In his first live 11-on-11 receiver rep this spring, he outmuscled defensive back Terrance Floyd for the football and a 20-yard touchdown catch. Gilmore has become so fond of McEvoy's talent that he constantly tells Badgers defensive backs coach Daronte Jones, "Hey, stay away" when the topic about switching McEvoy back to safety arises.

"Not many guys his size can run and jump the way he can," Stave said, "so he can be a little bit of a mismatch when you've got a smaller corner on him."

Six years later, the route trees are the same, even as the competition will be substantially different. But after all this time, McEvoy finally appears to have found a home on the football field.

"Every day, I feel more comfortable," McEvoy said. "It's been quite a ride, but I wouldn't want it any other way."