The Graham Mertz Redemption Project Begins at Utah

Florida Gators quarterback Graham Mertz (15) passes during practice at Gary Condron Family Indoor Practice Facility in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, August 9, 2023. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]
Florida Gators quarterback Graham Mertz (15) passes during practice at Gary Condron Family Indoor Practice Facility in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, August 9, 2023. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun] /

The University of Florida has high expectations for its football program and despite its recent run, expectations remain as high as ever for Florida football. As the Netflix documentary Swamp Kings showcased, being a new head coach comes with a high level of scrutiny, Billy Napier learned that in his first year. The only thing that is greater is the scrutiny of being a quarterback for the Florida Gators.

With two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in the program’s history as well as other notable players, being a first-time starter can be daunting. Graham Mertz is looking for his own kind of redemption so he and the goals of the program remain steadfast, creating their own history.

From 5-Star Quarterback to the Transfer Portal

Graham Mertz hails from Blue Valley North High School in Mission, Kansas where he shined as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He was a part of the 2019 recruiting class where he committed to Wisconsin. He was the third-ranked quarterback in the country thus making him the highest rated quarterback commitment in the program’s history.

Mertz had to wait till his second year on campus to start for the Badgers, sadly it came in front of no fans in 2020 against Illinois. What he was able to do to the Fighting Illini defense was nearly perfect as he passed 21 times completing 20 of them and throwing for five touchdowns. Sadly, however, that impressive day has yet to be replicated by the former 4-star recruit, in three seasons at Wisconsin he was a mixed bag all in all. He had a record of 19-13 as a starter with a career completion percentage of 59.5 and a near identically touchdowns to interceptions mark.

He finished the second half of 2022 on a better run than what he started. Mertz was able to win four of seven games and throw 11 touchdowns to five interceptions in the process. Perhaps that last burst of mild success was enough, or the coaching change, to allow him to think he may be more appealing to another staff and team.

From Madison to Gainesville, Mertz Gets his Fresh Start

Graham Mertz entered the transfer portal on December 7 of last year and just three weeks later he had found his home. After many Gator fans had been expecting Grayson McCall, they landed the former Badger quarterback. While the results in fans’ and media’s heads may be different from one quarterback to another, Florida is going from a top draft pick under center to an inconsistent one.

Wisconsin never had a chance to be more of an offense than to hand the ball off once, twice, and three times before settling for a punt more often than not. At Florida, his skillset may be put to use more properly by the former Alabama assistant who now roams the sidelines as the Gators head coach. Napier went from Tuscaloosa to Lousianna-Lafayette where he had some of the program’s best years, that success earned him a chance in Gainesville. Napier can build and run an offense, Mertz may be his best bet to do it while patience remains among those within and around the program.

Mertz has the skill players around him for success in wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and running backs Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne. The brother of Travis, Trevor Etienne has especially shown an ability to help get the most out of every touch with his speed and vision.

The offense as a whole is retooled, the coaching staff remains in place, Mertz is a veteran, no more excuses for anyone. Whether it be Billy Napier or Graham Mertz, no more excuses for everyone, the road to redemption begins on Thursday night in Utah.