Quarterback Mabrey Mettauer came away from his only visit to Wisconsin’s campus in September impressed with so many facets of the football program. He liked how big the offensive linemen were, the talent of the running backs and defensive players, the game-day atmosphere inside Camp Randall Stadium and the coaches. But, if he was being honest with himself, there was one major aspect he couldn’t ignore.
“It wasn’t my favorite offense,” Mettauer said The Athletic.
Mettauer (pronounced meh-TAW-yer), a four-star prospect and the No. 21 quarterbacks in the 2024 recruiting class, had options. Lots of them. He has earned scholarship offers from 20 Power 5 schools. And he wasn’t going to settle for something that didn’t excite him. Watching Wisconsin struggle to score with its pro-style offense in a 17-14 loss to Washington State during his visit only further hammered home that point. Three weeks later, Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was fired.
But as Mettauer’s junior season at The Woodlands High School in Texas wrapped up and he began to more seriously evaluate his choices, everything changed. Luke Fickell, who had recruited Mettauer at Cincinnati, was hired to lead Wisconsin. He then brought in the offensive coordinator Mettauer had developed perhaps the best relationship with anyone during his recruitment: North Carolina’s Phil Longo, whose Air Raid offense greatly intrigued Mettauer, a dual-threat with a strong right arm.
I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with! With lots of prayer, I have decided to follow @CoachFick and @CoachPhilLongo to the Big 10 where I will look forward to playing in the Air Raid!
Glory to God!Let’s go BADGER NATION!!? ?⚪️ pic.twitter.com/9OKBp0CLtu
— Mabrey Mettauer (@MabreyMettauer) December 24, 2022
Suddenly, Wisconsin shot to the top of Mettauer’s list. Mettauer said he communicated by text with Longo daily since he came to Wisconsin and that the two had spoken on the phone anywhere from 10-to-15 times. He was re-offered by the new staff Dec. 15 and quickly decided on his future. On Saturday, he publicly announced his commitment to Wisconsin, joining cornerback Austin Alexander as the second prospect in the Badgers’ 2024 class. Mettauer informed Fickell of his decision Friday afternoon.
“He was like, ‘All right, this is our time,'” Mettauer said. “‘We’ve got to go start hitting this recruiting class super hard, me and you.'”
Wisconsin won’t play a game with Fickell’s new coaching staff in place for more than eight months. But the appeal of a different and potentially dynamic offensive system is already paying dividends. For proof, just look at Mettauer, who chose Wisconsin over finalists North Carolina and Kansas State. Mettauer paid close attention to what Longo achieved with his last two quarterbacks at UNC, as Sam Howell set 27 school records and Drake Maye finished 10th in Heisman Trophy voting this season.
“He said the offense that’s at North Carolina, I’m going to just bring it right over to Wisconsin,” Mettauer said. “I love his offense. I love what he does with it, how he has a good run-to-pass ratio. I love to pass the ball and get a few runs in during the game. I definitely love his offense that he’s bringing back over to Wisconsin.”
Although Mettauer is listed as a pro-style quarterback by some recruiting services, he is a dual-threat option with intriguing size. He stands 6-foot-5 ½ and 220 pounds — his dad, Mark, says he’ll be 230 pounds by the start of his senior season — with long blonde hair. Mettauer said he has been mistaken several times in recent years for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence but says he models his game after Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, another 6-5 player.
“I’m really a dual-threat, so I think I can run and pass the ball super well,” Mettauer said. “And I’m not afraid to lay the boomstick to anybody. I’m definitely not scared of anybody. I know I can throw really well, move around in the pocket, just get the first down when it’s needed.”
Mettauer has often been the tallest player on the field during his career. He was 6-2 as an eighth grader and played as a blocking tight end and offensive tackle for his youth football teams until he moved to quarterback as a high school freshman.
“And then he was kind of a glorified running back because he just ran over everybody,” Mark said. “They put him at a wing back in the old wing-t formation. He ended up blocking and pancaking guys every play just to make way for the running backs at that point because they kept putting nine or 10 guys in the box when he would take the direct snap.”
Mettauer offered a glimpse of his passing potential as a freshman when, on his first varsity throw in a game against Grand Oaks, he tossed a 53-yard touchdown. The Woodlands coach Jim Rapp said he didn’t want to put too much on Mettauer’s shoulders as a freshman, so he split time at quarterback and was used sparingly in the passing game. But what stood out that season was that no moment in a game was too big for him. Rapp recalled watching Mettauer deftly handle a late-game drive against Willis in which he led his team down the field for a touchdown.
“For a freshman, that’s impressive,” Rapp said. “So, to me, that was the thing that was like, ‘OK, when he’s our guy, he’s going to be something else.'”
He has been torching defenses in Texas ever since. In two years as the full-time varsity starter, he has thrown for 5,080 yards with 57 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also has rushed for 1,112 yards and 22 touchdowns. Mettauer finished his junior season by completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,621 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He carried 84 times for 613 yards — 7.3 yards per rushing attempt — with seven touchdowns.
Two highlights from his junior season in a shotgun spread system stand out and show what he could provide the Badgers. On one play, Mettauer takes a shotgun snap, keeps the ball on a read option with a defensive end closing off space on the running back and outruns the defense down the right sideline for a 57-yard touchdown. On another play, he steps up into the pocket under pressure and uncorks a bomb that travels 64 yards in the air for a completion.
The Mettauer family has deep ties to Texas A&M. Both Mark and his wife attended Texas A&M, Mabrey’s grandfather played for the Aggies in the 1960s under Gene Stallings and one of his uncles played there as well. But Mabrey didn’t show allegiances during his recruitment, just like his older brother, McKade, didn’t. McKade is a 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman who started 38 games in three seasons at Cal and started this past season at left guard for Oklahoma.
“When McKade heard Wisconsin was interested in Mabrey, he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s as good as SEC football or better,'” Mark said. “He’s played at Cal where there’s nobody that showed up at the games and then he played at Oklahoma where everybody showed up. We’ve been to a game in Madison, which is very much like the SEC. These guys want to play in front of big crowds.”
Mark said he had a more positive view of Wisconsin’s pro-style offense than Mabrey and noted the biggest thing the program lacked in recent years was a quarterback who consistently delivers. But Longo’s system, which is willing to be aggressive down the field, create for playmakers in space and utilize RPO actions with a mobile quarterback, offered a package that was too good for his son to pass up.
“I definitely know they’d have been more successful if Mabrey had been there,” Mark said. “That’s an opinion, of course. But I definitely think with Longo moving there, he’s a guy that develops quarterbacks. That’s his deal. He’s not new to the game on that. His best fit is a big 6-4-plus athletic quarterback with a good running back and good O-line. The only missing piece Wisconsin has is a top-tier quarterback, in my opinion. That’s kind of always been their thing.
“It’s just hard to get a guy up there. Russell Wilson is the last guy of note that I can think of that played really well, and he was a graduate transfer — he wasn’t a recruit. He wasn’t a guy out of high school. So think about it. You take a guy like that with talent. You plug and play to what you guys already have, linemen, running backs, a couple top-tier receivers. He made it successful. You take a guy like Longo, who’s already got all the buzz with his quarterbacks and his offenses, you can bring more kids like that in. I think it’s going to make gameplanning for Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan a hell of a lot harder for the Big Ten Championship Game.”
Mettauer said it was important to him to be one of the first commitments in the class so he can help recruit other players to join him at Wisconsin. He plans to visit campus a second time and meet the new staff in January. The quarterback room under Fickell and Longo is already shaping up to create plenty of intrigue for the future. Wisconsin added Oklahoma transfer Nick Evers, a four-star prospect and top-10 quarterback in the 2022 class who will be a redshirt freshman next season. Myles Burkett will also be a redshirt freshman while Cole LaCrue will be a true freshman. All four players have the arm strength and mobility to succeed in Longo’s system.
Like any successful quarterback, Mettauer does not lack for confidence with what he believes is possible at Wisconsin.
“If I’m not getting touched,” he said, “we’re winning games.”
(Photo courtesy of Mabrey Mettauer)