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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Transfer quarterback Graham Mertz details decision to join Gators

Mertz spent four seasons as quarterback at Wisconsin

Redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz prepares to snap the ball in a Spring scrimmage Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
Redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz prepares to snap the ball in a Spring scrimmage Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz knew he wanted to join the Gators the moment he came to Gainesville. 

Mertz spent four seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers before he chose to enter the National Collegiate Athletic Association Transfer Portal after the 2022 season. He described his decision to join Florida as a “no-brainer.”

“I took a quick visit, and I knew getting on that plane back that this was where I wanted to be,” Mertz said. 

The redshirt junior quarterback played 34 games at Wisconsin. He threw for 5,405 yards, 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in four seasons with the Badgers. Mertz passed for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns in the 2022 season — both career-highs. 

While Mertz still shows love for his former team, he knew it was time for a change of scenery, he said. 

“I was at a point in my career where I needed a fresh start, and I was excited for that,” Mertz said. 

The Overland Park, Kansas, native listed several factors that lured him to Gainesville. Mertz loved the coaching staff and the direction head coach Billy Napier is taking with the program, he said. 

The Wisconsin transfer arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, with a lot of hype. Mertz was a four-star recruit and the No. 3 pro style quarterback in the class of 2019, according to the 247Sports composite rankings

He was the 10th highest rated recruit and highest rated quarterback in Wisconsin school history, according to 247Sports. Mertz credited his parents for helping him block out the lofty expectations and focus on improving himself, he said.

“If I do my job every day good, then good things happen,” Mertz said. “Just having that foundation that my parents installed for me, that holds more weight than anything.”

Mertz made history in his first college start. He started against the Illinois Fighting Illini Oct. 23, 2020. He completed 20 of his 21 pass attempts and set a school record for completion percentage in a game. Mertz added five touchdowns passes and 248 yards to fuel the Badgers’ victory. 

He followed his historic performance with an up-and-down redshirt freshman season. He finished his first year with nine touchdown passes and five interceptions. 

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In the 2021 season, Mertz continued to struggle with consistency and threw 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He improved his touchdown to turnover ratio in the 2022 season with 19 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but there’s still room for growth, he said. 

“It just comes down to just doing your job better for the guys around you,” Mertz said. 

Mertz has felt refreshed since he made the move to Gainesville, he said. 

“I wake up every day with just joy to have a fresh start,” Mertz said. “It makes me live in the moment and just do my job every day.” 

After seven Spring practices, Mertz loved his fit in the offense, he said. He’s felt freed up to make the rest of his team better and spread the field out. Mertz pointed out how Napier built the offense to always give him an “answer” for plays, which gives him true confidence, Mertz said. 

Mertz donned the famous No. 15 on his jersey in Spring practices and will wear the number going forward for the Gators. He doesn’t feel any pressure wearing the same number as Florida great Tim Tebow and potential National Football League No. 1 pick, Anthony Richardson. 

He didn’t choose the number, however, and he said the jersey showed up in his locker, he said. Mertz wore No. 5 all four seasons at Wisconsin, but the new number wasn’t unfamiliar to him. 

His two older sisters wore No. 15 when they played basketball, he said. 

“Just mixing in family and the history, that number means a lot to me,” Mertz said. 

The decision to give Mertz No. 15 was Napier’s. While Mertz saw the act as his coach potentially trying to send him a message, he was ultimately appreciative of the history behind the number, he said. 

“It was a cool moment because I knew it was bigger than me,” Mertz said. “But there weren’t really any expectations because I’m here to just do my job.” 

Napier thought Mertz made a great impression on the organization in his first few months at Florida, the UF head coach said. Napier appreciated Mertz’ approach and described it as professional, diligent and self-aware.

“I think the guy is a really good communicator, and he’s got a great grasp of what’s happening out there,” Napier said. 

Mertz has improved with every practice, Napier said. The quarterback’s stature is what initially stood out to Napier. Mertz is 6 foot, 3 inches tall, 214 pounds and possesses real arm talent, Napier said. 

When Mertz arrived in Gainesville, he wanted to know the offense so he could apply it on the first day of Spring practices, he said. He played catch-up to learn the new system, he said, and worked to know the offense and apply it to his game. 

“There were long days, but I know it’ll be worth it,” he said. 

Mertz didn’t think anything went wrong with his old team but rather attributed his move to nothing truly going right, he said. He doesn’t have any bad feelings for Wisconsin, but since his transfer to UF, he’s been joyful to wake up and go play, he said. 

“I’m blessed to be down here,” Mertz said. 

Mertz and the Gators will play their Orange and Blue spring game April 13 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and streaming info will be released at a later date. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at jacksonreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes


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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.


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