Coan’s Injury Provides Opportunity For Wisconsin QB Mertz

Coan’s Injury Provides Opportunity For Wisconsin QB Mertz

From the moment he announced his college choice, Graham Mertz has received more attention than the typical Wisconsin quarterback.

Mertz is about to get his chance to show hes worthy of all the acclaim that accompanied his arrival on campus last year. Now that foot surgery has sidelined returning starter Jack Coan indefinitely, Mertz is likely to open the season as the 16th-ranked Badgers first-team quarterback.

Right now Im very confident in my ability to win games, Mertz said Thursday. Practice has been going great in that sense. I feel like were ready to go. Im excited for it.

Mertz, a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman, is competing with sophomore Chase Wolf and junior Danny Vanden Boom but appears on track to start Wisconsins season opener Oct. 24 against Illinois if Coan is unavailable. Coan hurt his right foot while dropping back in practice Saturday.

Thats kind of the path were on right now, quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr said. Jack was obviously taking all the snaps with the ones. When he went down, now Grahams taking those snaps. For Graham, hes got to keep improving each day and maximize this opportunity he has, but I would see that being the case.

Mertz was rated as the nations No. 3 pro-style quarterback and No. 65 overall prospect in his high school class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.

We had everybody from Jim Harbaugh to Ryan Day in this office, and anybody and everybody you can think of in between recruiting him at that time, said Andy Sims, who coached Mertz at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, Kansas.

Wisconsin fans arent accustomed to seeing blue-chip recruits with the ball in their hands.

Mertz became Wisconsins first top-100 247Sports Composite signee who didnt play on the offensive line since 2007, when the Badgers landed running back John Clay out of Park High School in Racine, Wisconsin.

The biggest thing to me in the recruiting process is everybody says find a place thats like home, Mertz said. I feel like this is a place where it was home for me, and I felt like I could win a bunch of games here.

Mertz redshirted last season but went 9 of 10 for 73 yards while playing in blowouts of Central Michigan and Kent State.

Teammates say Mertz spent the offseason improving his mental approach to the game so that it caught up to his considerable physical strengths.

He came in very physically gifted, Vanden Boom said. He throws the ball really well. Hes got good feet. I think all of those things are just drilled into him. It kind of comes naturally. Hes been working on that stuff for his whole life. Hes a very natural thrower of the football. But I think Grahams biggest strides have come mentally. He definitely understands what were trying to do.

Mertz will face a challenge as a redshirt freshman trying to lead an offense with plenty of upperclassmen. Perhaps his high school experience will help: Sims noted that Mertz transferred into Blue Valley North after his sophomore year. He immediately set such an example that before his junior season he was named one of four captains on a team with 35 seniors.

Mertz led Blue Valley North to a state title as a junior and a runner-up finish his senior year, when he set a state record by throwing 51 touchdown passes.

His leadership skills are tremendous, Sims said. Hes able to rally teams around himself. He has that type of personality. Hes very much a lead-by-example guy, and your right guard loves that about their quarterback.

Mertz could have a tough time matching Coans efficiency.

Coan threw 18 touchdown passes and only five interceptions last season while ranking 19th among all Football Bowl Subdivision players in passer rating. Coan helped Wisconsin (10-4) win the Big Ten West Division title and reach the Rose Bowl.

Jack is a fantastic decision maker, Mertz said. He knows every coverage, where hes going with the ball. Thats one area where, last season I needed to work on that. Seeing him play and in the film room, thats one area where he helped me a ton and continues to help me.

That example shows how much Coan is making his mark on this program, whether hes taking the snaps while healthy or helping out Mertz while recovering from surgery.

That’s who Jack is, Budmayr said. Hes an unbelievable leader. Hes an unbelievable presence for our team. Hes going to attack and approach this recovery better than anybody. Hell be back stronger for it.


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