Chase Wolf did not enroll early last season, so his initial snaps he performed as a college quarterback came during fall camp.
Fast forward to the present, and Wolf begins to finish up his first set of spring practices at Wisconsin. The redshirt freshman believes he has come far from that fall camp.
“I think personally I’ve grown a tremendous amount, speaking of reading coverages and making decisions,” Wolf told reporters on Apr. 19. “I remember in high school I kind of just knew what was going on, and then coming into this complex offense, you really have to study up and know what you’re doing at all times. To this point, [this] is the best that I have understanding what I’m doing at all times, where everybody’s supposed to be.
With the final two spring practices on Thursday and Friday, Wolf currently sits in a four-man race with the starting quarterback spot open. He, rising junior Jack Coan, redshirt junior Danny Vanden Boom and true freshman mid-year enrollee Graham Mertz all hope to boost their stock to receive reps in fall camp later this year.
Competition is not new to Wolf, who backed up current Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford when he was a junior at St. Xavier High School in the Cincinnati area.
Wolf sat behind Clifford in 2016, but as previously reported, he received his opportunity to play that year due to injury. He made the most of it, throwing for 1,391 yards and 16 touchdowns in a junior season that eventually ended with a state title. As the Cincinnati Enquirer noted in a four-game stretch, including one playoff game, Wolf threw for 847 yards with 11 touchdowns.
“My high school experience has taught me to never shy away from competition, and Sean, that’s one of the best competitions out there, especially in high school,” Wolf said. “Like you don’t see two Big Ten quarterbacks competing for a job in high school, and I think that really made me mature. He’s a great player, and he helped me get better, and I think I can learn from these guys.
“Jack [Coan]’s a good egg, they’re all good eggs out there. I can learn from them, especially Coach ‘Bud’ [Budmayr], too.”
Watching spring practices, Wolf arguably may just be the most dynamic quarterback on the roster with his mobility and arm strength. His dual-threat nature of delivering a strong throw in tight spaces and deep areas of the field, along with the ability to tuck the ball and take off when called upon, at the very least makes him an intriguing factor in the race from the outside looking in.
“Chase, he likes to get around and make some movements to get on the run and throw it,” true freshman Graham Mertz said when asked about Wolf on Friday.
Wolf also believes he has a certain attitude to get the job done, though he also acknowledged an area of improvement.
“I believe I have a strong arm but sometimes my decision making isn’t up to standard, but I think I can make plays inside and outside the pocket,” Wolf said. “That’s what I was able to do in high school which got me here. I think just have a gamer mentality, where if I step up into a game, I’ll figure out a way to help the team win. I think I can lead the guys and make the best out of them.”
At times, he has shown the ability to chuck a ball between two defenders to hit a receiver for a long gain, like he did last week in a reception to fellow redshirt freshman A.J. Abbott. He can also thread the needle on a pass as seen last Friday in a throw to reserve walk-on tight end Jack Eschenbach.
In other reps—not unlike Coan, Vanden Boom and Mertz, for that matter—he has also shown those development opportunities. During a scrimmage session of Wisconsin’s open practice on April 13, he showcased that scrambling ability in one drive that started to pick up steam downfield—a positive. However later on that drive, he failed to secure the ball when on the run that resulted in a fumble. Redshirt freshman cornerback Alexander Smith picked it up and returned it for a long would-be touchdown.
Last week, position coach Jon Budmayr noted his pupil’s arm but also referenced his decision making.
“For Chase, his strength is he can make any throw. Now it’s just a matter of when is that a good decision to make that throw.” Budmayr said on April 16. “You got to remember with Chase [that] this is his first spring ball, and so he’s getting the biggest amount of work that he’s had up to this point, and I’ve loved his approach and the way that he’s gotten into it and been in the moment and tried to learn from mistakes. He’s done a great job of that and now we got to keep progressing.”
Budmayr explained that these spring sessions help in the development and growth of his quarterbacks, but also foretold that they will earn fall reps based on their spring performances.
Coan comes in as the most experienced of the four contenders, playing in 11 games with four starts in two seasons. All of his reps this spring have been with what can be construed as the first-team offense. Vanden Boom played in mop up time in three games last season, but that is still college game time experience both Wolf and Mertz do not have.
For Mertz, the heralded recruit who enrolled in January, he has shown the early potential in leading touchdown drives and delivering accurate, strong throws that made him one of the most sought-after prep quarterbacks in the 2019 class.
Despite the competition, Wisconsin’s quarterbacks spoke about the closeness of the group, and Wolf especially referenced the four as “brothers” that have “a great bond” in that room. When asked about changes to that with the number of reps being adjusted for him or the other three down the road during fall camp, he remained focused on the present.
“Right now, I just have to make the most of my reps now and then worry about that then, and get as good as I can in the summer months,” Wolf said. “Then I’ll worry about reps then just to see how it plays out. But I think if I just make the most out of every rep I have— even if it’s fall camp, if I’m getting limited reps—then I think I can become better and give us a shot to be the best team we can be.”