The highest-rated quarterback recruit in University of Wisconsin football history is set to enter the transfer portal.
Quarterback Graham Mertz is leaving the program and intends to transfer, he announced on social media. He started all 32 games for UW the past three seasons, and the Badgers went 19-13 in that span. He completed 59.5% of his passes for 5,405 yards (159 per game) and 38 touchdowns with 26 interceptions.
“I am grateful for my time as a Badger, my time in Madison has taught me lessons that go far beyond the football field,” Mertz wrote in his post.
“I want to thank Coach Chryst, Coach Engram, Keller Chryst, our strength staff, our training room staff, and everyone that is a part of this program for making my dream come true.
“I also want to express my gratitude for the great young men I was able to play alongside. To my teammates, we’ve been through a lot, and the thing that kept us going was our love for each other, this is one thing that can never be broken.
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“I have decided that I will be entering the transfer portal in pursuit of my next opportunity. I will be entering with 2 years of eligibility.”
UW hired coach Luke Fickell last Sunday to take over for Paul Chryst, who was fired on Oct. 2. The Badgers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl will have their first different starting quarterback since Jack Coan started the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020. Senior Chase Wolf, who's likely playing in his final game for UW, and freshman Myles Burkett are options to start.
Fickell said he spoke with Mertz multiple times during his first week as UW’s coach. Mertz’s social media post announcing the move came during Fickell’s Zoom news conference about the team’s bowl game.
“Actually, I just got off the phone not too long ago with him,” Fickell said. “I’ve had some conversations with his family as well. It’s a tough situation and he knows that. We want nothing more than the best for him. I can’t tell you I know him, but met him a few times. I encouraged him to stick around here and wait, see how the changes go, but I think at some point in time, some of those guys feel like it’s time or something that they need to do.
“I don’t want that, that’s not what I encouraged him to do, but I also respect that.”
Mertz is the second UW quarterback to transfer this season. Redshirt freshman Deacon Hill left the program the week following Chryst’s firing.
Mertz's commitment was a recruiting coup for the Badgers, who got one of the top-rated pro-style passers in the Class of 2019 over the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others. After taking a redshirt his freshman year, Mertz became the starter in 2020 after Coan broke his foot in training camp.
Mertz made his starting debut with a splash, completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns, tying a school record. That would be the high-water mark of Mertz's career for the Badgers.
He had other big games, such his 299-yard, five-TD showing against Northwestern this season or throwing three scores in 16 passes at Rutgers last season. But Mertz failed to raise his game in the biggest moments. Tight losses in critical moments — Penn State and Minnesota in 2021, Iowa this year — marred his tenure, as did turnover issues he never solved.
UW didn't do him many favors by changing his position coach and offensive coordinator each season he was a starter while falling to develop depth at tight end and receiver. Coupled with an offensive line that didn't keep the pocket clean with as much regularity as Badgers quarterbacks are accustomed to, Mertz dealt with more instability than the average UW signal-caller.
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