About 15 days ago, Blue Valley North junior Graham Mertz stood atop Bascom Hill on the campus of the University of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin State capitol sat at the bottom of the hill. Somewhere behind Bascom Hall, to the southwest, was Camp Randall Stadium.
It was like Mertz could see all of the town of Madison.
In that moment, the quarterback could see a future version of himself there, too.
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Mertz announced his commitment to the Wisconsin football program on Twitter on Sunday, two weeks after his official visit to campus on Sept. 30 for a game against Northwestern — and only six weeks into his varsity career.
“I can play relaxed now,” Mertz said. “I don’t have to worry about what I have been worrying about, which is knowing that I have a deal. That’s what I want, what I’ve always wanted, and now it’s just time to have fun and play.”
For two years, Mertz had toiled under the lights at Bishop Miege, but only as a JV quarterback.
He was a backup to Carter Putz, Miege’s prolific passer who last season earned Gatorade player of the year honors in Kansas and early this season threw the 93rd touchdown pass of his career to set a new state record.
Mertz might have gotten the chance to split duties with Putz this year, but the opportunity to earn increased playing time sooner was too enticing an idea to put to rest.
“He needed to be the guy,” said Ron Mertz, Graham’s father. “That position is unique. You can’t just sit on the sidelines and watch. You need to experience it.”
The younger Mertz transferred to Blue Valley North after winter break last year. Coach Andy Sims made no guarantees that Mertz would win the leadership role Mertz craved, but he was open to giving Mertz the chance to win his future teammates over.
“When he got here, I told him, ‘You’re still gonna have to earn the players’ trust and respect,’” Sims said. “It’s been like he’s been with us since day one. They elected him captain this year. You can’t do that if you don’t have great locker-room presence about you, and he does.”
Mertz, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound pro-style quarterback, was able to fall seamlessly into Sims’ system.
Before facing Mill Valley on Thursday night, he had passed for 1,604 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. He averaged 267 yards passing and more than three touchdowns per game playing only Eastern Kansas League opponents.
“I told (Wisconsin coaches), ‘This is the worst version of this kid you’ll ever see on the field,’” Sims said.
The time Mertz spent at Miege, practicing with wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, who is now a freshman wideout at Notre Dame, and learning from Jon Holmes and quarterbacks coach Justin Hoover, had laid groundwork for early success at Blue Valley North.
It also opened the doors for Mertz to play in the Elite 11 quarterback competition and in Nike’s 7 on 7 national circuit with Epic 7 Midwest.
In the end, his low profile at Bishop Miege turned into offers from Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where his father played in the late 1980s.
Mertz went from being a football player not knowing, on Saturday night, his next football destination, to becoming the potential future signal caller at Wisconsin, where he plans to enroll early in the winter of 2019, within 24 hours.
“Saturday I had decided I was going to wait until after the season before I did this,” Mertz said. “But then Sunday I just woke up and didn’t want to wait. I couldn’t tell you what changed. I just woke up and felt it.”
After deliberating again on Sunday whether to hold off on committing this early in the recruiting process, Mertz picked up the phone, put his future Wisconsin coaches and his parents on a conference call and said, “I’m going to be a Badger.”
“He found his home,” Ron Mertz said.