MADISON, Wis. — The worst part for Jon Budmayr was the uncertainty. Uncertainty about what, exactly, the injury was that plagued his right throwing elbow. Uncertainty about just how much time he might miss with the mysterious ailment.
“All I knew was I couldn’t throw,” Budmayr said. “And if you’re a quarterback that can’t throw, then you don’t bring much value to a team.”
This was in 2011, when Budmayr’s college football playing career was at a crossroads that would ultimately help lead him on a path toward becoming a college football coach. Budmayr exited Wisconsin’s spring practice season as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. When fall camp began, graduate-transfer Russell Wilson had arrived, and Budmayr figured to be in a battle for the starting job. But Budmayr never even had a chance to compete.
Several of his throws early in fall camp bounced at the feet of receivers, and he was limited to handing the ball off to tailbacks during drills. He had swelling in his elbow and missed the rest of fall camp. He saw two specialists in one week because he felt numbness in his fingers. In early September, Budmayr underwent surgery to relieve nerve damage in the elbow. But Budmayr suffered another setback during winter workouts when he felt a tinge of pain in a monitored throwing session.
In that moment, Budmayr knew what he had to do next. His career was over. He officially appeared in three games for Wisconsin and completed 8 of 10 passes for 134 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions.
That experience has shaped a lot about Budmayr as a coach because he can relate to both the highs and lows of being a Division I college athlete. It has served him well in his transition and will continue to play a role in his new job.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst hired Budmayr this offseason to become the Badgers quarterbacks coach once the NCAA allowed for a 10th assistant on each FBS staff. As the Badgers begin spring camp — seven years after Budmayr vaulted into the starting quarterback spot as a redshirt sophomore — he’ll be there to mentor a group in his first full-time job.
“That part of it I’ll carry with me forever,” Budmayr said. “Your faith gets tested, which is a good thing I think at times because it makes you trust the plan and trust the process that maybe this is the route that I should be on. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the way and let God lead you to that point. I think I was fighting it a little bit. I was staying in the way because you love it so much.
“But it really helped me get through it and learn that lesson to kind of open my eyes to what that next door might be, which was coaching. To have that vision of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to pursue might not have come as quickly if I wouldn’t have gone through that adversity.”
Budmayr is no stranger to being around the Badgers program in recent years. He served as a student assistant coach for Wisconsin in 2012 and 2013. After graduating, he joined Chryst at Pittsburgh to work as an offensive graduate assistant for one year. When Chryst left Pitt to take over as Wisconsin’s coach, Budmayr joined him and worked for one more year as a graduate assistant with the Badgers quarterbacks. He spent 2016 and 2017 as a quality control assistant and continued aiding the quarterbacks.
“He certainly has good knowledge,” Chryst said. “I think he’s got a good style of teaching to convey that knowledge. He’s been around all these quarterbacks, and they’ve gotten to know him, so I think it helps. And he works at it. I was excited when he first wanted to get into coaching and then fortunately was around him and was able to see his growth.
“He’s been around other good coaches. I think it’s kind of helped him. And he’ll continue to grow in the profession, but certainly excited to have him working with our quarterbacks in a little different capacity.”
This spring, Budmayr will work with a group of four quarterbacks: starter Alex Hornibrook, as well as Jack Coan, Kare Lyles and Danny Vanden Boom. Incoming freshman quarterback Chase Wolf will arrive in the summer.
Budmayr’s familiarity with Chryst’s offensive system as his former player has been a big help. But so is his ability to relate to his quarterbacks. Budmayr is only 27 years old and not far removed from being in their shoes. He also has proven to be valuable on the recruiting trail and was instrumental in landing a commitment from 4-star quarterback Graham Mertz in the 2019 class.
“A lot of coaches sometimes say, ‘These are my kids. I treat them like my kids,’ ” Budmayr said. “For me, I don’t know what it’s like to have kids. But I know what it’s like to have a brother and a little brother and a big brother and to be a mentor. So that’s kind of the track I take with them is I’m still going to help them and mentor them on and off the field. But that approach that I have might be a little bit different than someone who is 15 or 20 years older than I am.”
Budmayr already has impressed members of Wisconsin’s coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said the addition of Budmayr to the staff would be “huge” because it allows for more 1-on-1 teaching with quarterbacks. Budmayr will provide a fresh perspective and has built relationships and trust with his players. Those traits can only help Wisconsin as it vies for a Big Ten championship and a possible spot in the College Football Playoff.
For Budmayr, a path of uncertainty has led to one with far more certainty.
“He’s got a great personality,” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “These guys know that he cares about them. They know that he puts tremendous time and effort and work into coaching the smallest detail of what he’s asking them to do. I think you earn that trust over time, and all guys want to improve and get better.
“When your coach did that and they see that in the guy that’s helping them along the way, someone they care about, it’s a pretty good thing. That’s what makes him special.”