The University of Wisconsin has never been a quarterback school.
There have been a few notables here and there. For example, there’s Russell Wilson (now the NFL’s highest paid player) and also brief Aaron Rodgers replacement Scott Tolzien. But the Badgers are usually lauded for their running backs and offensive linemen, not QBs. And Wilson was a graduate transfer. So it’s been a long time since the Badgers have had a potentially transcendent recruit under center.
Enter Graham Mertz. The true freshman from Overland Park, Kansas is currently behind junior Jack Coan on the depth chart, so he’s the rare backup to be recently featured by ESPN. The headline calls him “Wisconsin’s most hyped QB since Russell Wilson.”
The teenager has racked up honors like Meryl Streep does Oscars. Mertz is the No. 1 pocket passer in his class and the No. 21 recruit overall. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Kansas. And it’s possible Mertz scared Alex Hornibrook away from Madison entirely. (It’s tough to blame Hornibrook if that’s the case.)So what was it that brought Mertz to Bascom and Camp Randall? Well, for one thing, his mother is from Green Bay. He spent his summers in Door County, and Ma Mertz says that “he has that Midwest state of mind.”
Wisconsin coaches saw him early in his high school career and were intrigued. They offered a scholarship, along with Kansas and Minnesota. Mertz committed to the Badgers at the beginning of his junior year, on Oct. 8, 2017. But then a spectacular season led to the majorest of major college football programs showing interest, including Alabama, Clemson and an Ohio State.
A similar scenario had unfolded with men’s basketballer Tyler Herro. He pledged to UW in 2016 and a year later switched to Kentucky. It’s worked out splendidly for Herro, as he’s expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft later this week.
But each time a new school would inquire with Mertz, he would then call Badgers’ QBs coach Jon Budmayr and tell him he turned them down.
“Not saying Wisconsin isn’t a big brand,” Budmayr told ESPN, “but there were probably brands that were flashier that he could have picked. It speaks to Graham’s confidence in himself.”
Last summer, Mertz made it officially official and shut down his recruitment. He was going to be a Badger, and UW couldn’t wait to have him.
“Fans made a lot of hype, especially after the All-American [Bowl],” said freshman linebacker Spencer Lytle, who is also Mertz’s roommate. “People are like, ‘We can’t wait for this guy to come in.’”
The All-American Bowl is kinda the high school Pro Bowl. The annual game pits the best prep football seniors against each other. Mertz took home MVP honors in January, going 7-for-14 with five touchdowns. Five! On 14 attempts!
Maybe it’s Mertz’s Midwestern geniality, or the fact that he could easily throw a football over them mountains. (And I say this knowing the nearest mountains are in Missouri.) But there’s an incredible amount of confidence in Graham Mertz, and big things are expected.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Mertz himself:
These 2019 wisco boys are coming different.. just wait
— Graham Mertz (@GrahamMertz5) June 6, 2019