Offensive coordinator Phil Longo surprised a few when he mentioned his depth chart of the competitive quarterback room that the Wisconsin Badgers have fielded this offseason: Tanner Mordecai, Braedyn Locke, and... walk-on Marshall Howe.
“There have been three guys that have showed something [most impressive]. That would be Tanner [Mordecai], Braedyn [Locke], and Marshall Howe,” Longo said, before later confirming that his top three on the depth chart were those quarterbacks in the same order.
Howe, a holdover from the previous regime, was buried on the depth chart behind Myles Burkett and Chase Wolf last season, but has immediately impressed Longo with his understanding of the offense early in the offseason.
“Myles [Burkett] and Nick [Evers] are learning still. I think it’s hard to go lead when you don’t have everything down. And then I think Marshall, Braedyn, and [Tanner have] the best understanding of the system,” Longo shared.
How exactly has Howe come to take advantage of the opportunity as a walk-on?
“It’s always a process whenever you start learning a new offense. Everyone learns it kind of differently, but just taking it one step at a time. We started as a group with mostly, like, the dropback passes,” Howe said. “[We were first looking to] just get the fundamentals down and then went on to some dropback passing game and slowly incorporated the run game. But, really just taking it piece by piece is the way that I handled it the best. Just kind of learning things on the fly, picking up whatever Coach Longo says and really being dialed in meetings,” Howe said.
An area where Howe has separated himself was his understanding of the offense, which he attributed to his note-taking during meetings early on with Coach Longo.
“He’s really preached that terminology is really important for us, whether it’s quarterback, wide receiver, tight ends, we all have to be on the same page, what we’re saying. So one thing that’s been important for me has been really writing down as much as possible in meetings, everything he says for the most part. Especially the first couple of weeks, I was writing down everything he was saying just to try and get a grasp of what he wants for us to be communicating to other players and what he’s going to communicate to us,” Howe said.
Following the understanding of the basics, it was easier to learn the deeper elements of the offense.
“And so starting with that, it really builds on itself. And once you’ve got the basics in, you can really start to add little gadgets here and there,” Howe said. “It’s not too bad.”
But, before putting in the work this offseason, Howe had a decision to make: transfer from Wisconsin after hearing about the three scholarship transfers, or remain and compete.
At first, the walk-on quarterback didn't know what to expect from the tumultuous offseason before learning about the quarterback commits.
“Yeah, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Obviously, throughout winter break, I was getting the news that people were committing. We had three commits. But really there’s two ways to go,” Howe said. “You can kind of take that as a sign, like, ‘oh, they’re bringing in people, they want me out,’ or you can take it as, okay, ‘they’re bringing in people to compete.’ And I kind of took it that way.”
Rather than view the situation negatively, Howe saw the quarterback additions as a form of competition, which he’s always looked to embrace.
“I said to myself, ‘look like this is an opportunity not only to get better, but at the end of the day, what’s going to be best for this program’? Whoever’s going to play is going to be who competes the best, who does the best reps. So, why not compete every day? And so far, that’s kind of how it’s worked out. Just taking every day individually, not trying to get too far ahead of myself.”
Instead of looking years down the line, Howe stepped back and realized why he chose Wisconsin in the first place, despite the uphill battle that being a walk-on would provide. That led him to live in the moment and take the process step-by-step, which attributed to his decision to remain with the Badgers.
“It’s easy as a player, as a person, to look ahead in the future really far. You can see what’s going to happen next fall, what’s going to happen towards the end of my career, like four years from here. And, so when you start doing that, it starts getting confusing, Howe said. “But if you’re just able to take stuff day by day, live in the moment, and really just come in ready to work every single day, that’s kind of the only way I thought to approach it. And so to answer your question, I didn’t really worry about [transfers coming in] too much. I mean, I knew what I was facing when I committed here as a walk-on. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle regardless. So, bringing in an extra talent, obviously, it’s been fun to compete, but that’s all that I saw.”
As for his confidence, the redshirt quarterback believes it has only grown with the competition, as he’s beginning to prove that he can compete with established quarterbacks.
“Absolutely, [I have to believe I’m just as good as them regardless of background]. A lot of that stems from confidence in myself. And, I know that they all come from different backgrounds. A lot of them have had a lot of success,” Howe shared. “And honestly, that excites me because if I can prove then that I can compete with them, then it just is more confidence in myself. And so I think that so far, it’s been a great process getting to know everyone. We have a really good group in the quarterback room and are slowly but surely getting to know each other a lot better.”
One former process that has made this situation easier was Howe’s high school recruitment where he was stuck in turmoil with several coaching changes, as well as a school change for a postgraduate year before ending up as a walk-on at Wisconsin.
“Honestly, it’s been an enjoyable process because I have been able to kind of take it step by step and not get too far. It’s something I had to learn to do, and I think that my high school experience actually helped me do that,” Howe said. “With recruiting, there’s so many ups and downs, and if you let yourself get too caught up in all of it and just thinking about the end goal, you’re never going to end up having as much success in the present. So it’s been a process to get to that point where you can just focus on the here now.”
Now, the sophomore’s gotten used to the process of taking things day by day, which he envisions will continue as a part of his routine.
“But, I think I’ve gotten pretty adept at it. I’ve adapted well to just taking every day individually, and I think I’ll continue to be able to do that pretty well.”
Howe doesn't possess the best athleticism or arm talent on the team. But, offensive coordinator Phil Longo has preached the importance of knowledge, which is the primary indicator of reps.
While Longo understands the value of quarterback traits, once the quarterbacks are on the team, it fully becomes a matter of knowledge.
And that’s the reason Howe has impressed in his short time with the new coaching staff, quelling potential transfer rumors and earning the majority of the QB3 reps.