When new Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile met with star player Tanner McEvoy last February, the question was simple – do you want the ball four times a game or 40?
For McEvoy, the answer was simple. Previously one of the nation’s top athletes/wide receivers, the 6-foot-6 South Carolina recruit moved to quarterback and has become a top prospect at the position.
“He asked me ‘would you want to play quarterback or receiver? Do you want to touch the ball four times a game or 40 times a game?’” McEvoy said. “I’m thinking 40 times and we just stuck to it and just went with it.”
It was certainly a decision that paid off well for him and his Crusaders team. McEvoy was selected as New Jersey’s Offensive Player of the Year by The Star Ledger after tossing for 2,264 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushing for 1,196 yards and 14 touchdowns. With McEvoy under center, Bergen Catholic went 10-2, reaching the Non-Public, Group 4 finals and finishing the season as the state’s No. 2 team.
“Physically I wasn’t so surprised because I knew he was a really talented athlete,” said Campanile, considered one of the state’s top offensive coaches. “But his understanding of the game and his mental capacity of the game was very impressive to me. I figured he’d be a great player, but I didn’t know he’d be as smart a player as he is. He’s a pretty cerebral guy when it comes to football.”
“I picked it up pretty easily,” McEvoy said. “Coach really helped me out with the footwork and the arm motion, but with everything else the athleticism kind of took over and I just rolled with that.”
McEvoy, who selected the Gamecocks over North Carolina, Rutgers, Michigan and countless others, had been a wide receiver and recruited to play there. Many of those offers started to change after McEvoy sent out his summer film at quarterback from scrimmages and 7-on-7s.
Some schools expressed their doubts when McEvoy told them he wanted to be a QB in college, but South Carolina was one of the first schools to offer McEvoy as a quarterback. McEvoy was already familiar with the school as his mother, aunt and uncle all attended USC. The resume of coaches Steve Spurrier and G.A. Mangus with young signal callers made the Gamecocks an appealing option.
“Those two guys are great quarterback coaches,” McEvoy said. “They should prepare me well for the next level. I’m looking forward to having them as my coaches. Obviously Coach Spurrier has been a great quarterback coach for many years. He’s a legend. And Coach Mangus is a great guy too. He played for Coach Spurrier too so they know a little something about the position.”
Spurrier and Mangus will have an intriguing prospect on their hands when McEvoy arrives on campus. With his combination of size, throwing arm and quickness, both McEvoy and Campanile struggled to come up with a comparable quarterback.
McEvoy’s relative lack of experience at the position might create the perception that he’s more of a project. He and Campanile believe that the lack of experience at the position could prove to be beneficial in the long run.
“The way I look at it, there’s a lot I can learn,” McEvoy said. “I haven’t grown up doing the same thing (for years). I can change and do things better so I’m really looking forward to getting down there.”
“He may not be a finished product yet, but he’s an easier player to mold than a lot of guys because he really doesn’t have a lot of bad habits,” Campanile said. “A lot of what he did was through one year of hard work and natural ability. He’s only going to get better.”
Campanile would know. Considered one of the top offensive minds in New Jersey, he coached NFL signal caller Ryan Teel, Tennessee’s Matt Simms and Rutgers recruit Gary Nova when he was the offensive coordinator for national power Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic’s arch-rival.
Campanile was also the first person to tell McEvoy that he should become a quarterback. When McEvoy was in sixth grade, he would attend the football summer camps at Don Bosco. He would often line up with the running backs, but even then Campanile felt his future would be under center.
“I was always telling him you should be a quarterback,” Campanile said. “He had that tall, long body, he was a great athlete. He could rip it even then. It’s kind of odd that we got together for his senior year.”