Wisconsin football’s top newcomer: D.J. Gillins

After years of having mediocre, just-enough-to-get-by quarterbacks like John Stocco and Tyler Donovan lead the Wisconsin offense, Badger fans were spoiled following the arrival of Russell Wilson in 2011.

Despite going to the Rose Bowl the previous year under Scott Tolzien, everyone seems to only remember Wilson. Of the three consecutive Rose Bowl teams, Wilson’s squad was easily the best. His poise and ability to both run and throw the football electrified the offense and captivated fans.

Since his departure, however, Wisconsin has been unable to fill the void. It’s been a revolving door ever since, with Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips all starting multiple games.

Stave has been the primary starter since the departure of Russell Wilson, but he has struggled mightily at times. Last season, Stave completed 61 percent of his passes and had a mediocre 22-13 touchdown-interception ratio. He was prone to wildly missing his receivers, be it overthrown or underthrown.

Additionally, Stave injured his shoulder during the Capital One Bowl in January and head coach Gary Andersen said during spring practice that it might not be healed yet. With Stave’s injury and inconsistency, the Badgers now have a full scale quarterback competition.

One of the candidates to win the starting job is true freshman D.J. Gillins. Though he may be a bit of a long shot—Bart Houston and Tanner McEvoy as well as Stave would be the current favorites—Gillins has a unique skill set that differentiates him from the other quarterbacks.

According to ESPN.com, Gillins runs a 4.87 40-yard dash and has a 35-inch vertical jump. Now quarterbacks don’t typically jump unless it’s vintage Tim Tebow, but it points to the athleticism of Gillins. He has a lanky build, standing 6’3” and weighing 185 pounds.

In high school, Gillins was a four-year starter and made Florida’s all-state team three times. He threw for over 2,000 yards in three seasons, and perhaps could have accomplished that all four years had he not torn his ACL in the opening game of his junior year.

A dual threat quarterback, Gillins finished his high school career with 7,271 passing yards and 76 touchdowns through the air. On the ground, he scrambled for 775 yards and 13 touchdowns.

His big arm and agility to escape the pocket made him a four-star recruit. Though he may not have the best chance at winning the starting job, he presents an interesting option to the coaching staff. Wisconsin could use Gillins in a variety of ways and expand the playbook. Even if he does not earn the job, Gillins’ athleticism could get him on the field with special packages to add a new dimension to UW’s offense.