Prove Them Wrong: BYU QB Zach Wilson Showing He Deserves Heisman Spotlight
PROVO, Utah – Started from the bottom, now Zach Wilson is here.
The former fourth-string quarterback at Corner Canyon High School has revived BYU’s rich tradition of quarterback play at a program that still prides itself as “QB U.”
Wilson has led BYU to a 7-0 start for the first time since 2001. The hot start has Cougar fans dreaming of a New Year’s Six bowl and visions of seeing their star quarterback in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Something BYU hasn’t experienced since Ty Detmer was stopping hurricane watches from happening in Provo.
The competition for this year’s Heisman is as challenging as ever, with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields atop the leaderboard. Two future first-round NFL draft picks that are quarterbacking college football’s finest programs. But Wilson’s confidence, swagger, and surgeon-like precision this season in BYU’s explosive offense have people in the college football world buzzing about the gunslinger Wilson having a chance to be in New York with the aforementioned stars.
“It’s a dream,” Zach Wilson said. “It’s a blessing for sure. I always tell the guys on the team when they bring it up is it’s really a team award. No one is winning the Heisman if you’re losing games. If you don’t have an offensive line that’s protecting for you if I don’t have receivers going up and high-pointing balls, or a defense making a stop. I tell those guys all the time that it’s really a reflection of our season.”
One year ago at this time, you probably didn’t find many people outside of Wilson and the BYU program that thought the Draper native was a Heisman candidate. Entering this season, Wilson was an average 8-8 as a starting quarterback while battling through a nagging shoulder injury and a setback to his thumb while trying to make a tackle off an intercepted pass. There was a fair share of critics who felt that Wilson wasn’t BYU’s best option at quarterback. But that’s what Wilson has been doing his entire football career, proving the doubters wrong.
“My whole life, I feel like I’ve always come from the bottom,” Wilson said. “I’ve never been the guy that’s had so many scholarship offers or was known as the big-time high school recruit, or even when I first got into high school, you know, I was the fourth-string quarterback at Corner Canyon High. It’s kind of a motto I’ve lived by my whole life. I came here to BYU and no one expected me to play and we had so many other quarterbacks in front of me. I got injured; no one expected me to come back from it.”
Like the late great Kobe Bryant with his Mamba Mentality, Wilson is fueled by a mindset, a way of life if you will. For Wilson, it’s “leave a legacy” and “prove them wrong.” Those sayings are on bracelets that Wilson wears every game, and they motivate him every day, even when no one is watching.
“It’s kind of a mentality that I have,” said Wilson. “If people are going to doubt you, I’m going to use that as fire to fuel my fire and, you know, prove everybody wrong and show people that I am capable of being able to fight through adversity and come back from things.”
The mentality of Zach Wilson has always been to compete
When Kalani Sitake secured Wilson’s commitment in the class of 2018, it was a huge coup for BYU and Sitake, who were coming off an abysmal 4-9 season in 2017. That season rattled the program’s psyche and identity to the core.
To get that identity of passing excellence back, Sitake knew he had to pry Wilson away from the likes of Boise State, Iowa, California, Oregon State, and others to land him. Then there was the hurdle of trying to land a kid who grew up a Utah fan and told his friends and current teammates (Dax Milne and Brayden Cosper) not to go to BYU.
Sitake knew Wilson and his family when he was a young kid attending Utah football camps when Sitake was working on Kyle Whittingham’s coaching staff on The Hill. He always knew there was something special in Wilson. When Wilson de-committed from Boise State, Sitake made Wilson priority number one on his recruiting wish list.
During the early Signing Period in December 2017, Wilson picked up a BYU flat-bill hat with Hawaiian flowers on the brim and the rest is history. Sitake had his signal-caller of the future and they haven’t looked back since.
“He always viewed himself as a great quarterback. He just needed everyone to see it,” Sitake said. “I think that he had a lot of things in the way, specifically injuries, and maybe a little bit of youth. But his mentality has always been to compete and be the best that he can. He doesn’t just rest; the guy gets better. Even if he’s not able to throw, he finds a way to get the mental part of his game strong, he’s just a hard worker and then he’s just never satisfied. When you have that under center –or in shotgun nowadays–good things can happen for you.”
Zach Wilson is putting up stats that deserve Heisman talk
This season, Zach Willson has passed through seven games for 2,152 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. Wilson’s completion rate is at 75 percent, hovering around one of the best individual completion rates by a QB in NCAA history. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes on throws 20 yards or more down the field. Wilson makes incomplete passes look good when he shows off his cannon of an arm going 60-plus yards down the field.
Last week, Wilson set a BYU record for most consecutive passes without an interception thrown at 184, beating a record that had stood for two decades.
To add to his rocket of an arm, Wilson can get out in space and make a play with his feet. Wilson is currently tied for 12th nationally with seven rushing touchdowns on the year.
Now Wilson and BYU’s toughest test awaits on Friday night against Boise State on the blue turf. A team that BYU has never defeated in Idaho.
The last time Wilson took on Boise State was in 2018, and it was on the blue. Boise State stopped the then-freshman QB on the game’s final play to prevent the Cougars from pulling off the upset victory.
“Really not reflecting on the past at all. We got a new team, they got a new team, two years later. Just a great opportunity for us,” Wilson said. “That’s a great football team over at Boise. They do well at home. This is a big week for us preparation wise; everyone’s got to be dialed in. We’ve got to get on the film, and we’ve got to take it seriously in practice because this is a good football team we’re going to face and we’ve got to give them our best shot.”
Best shot? You already know Zach Wilson is going to bring that, and so do his teammates.
“When Zach prepares each week, he likes to get an early start on defensive schemes, and he will spend hours in his room watching the film,” said BYU wide receiver and Zach Wilson’s childhood friend Dax Milne. “I think a lot of guys would rather watch the film for a little bit and then do something else like play video games, but Zach is very detailed in his preparation and I respect that about him. As far as on the field, he gets really talkative and will come up to me to talk about routes and what they are doing. He’s always looking for ways to make plays. ”
Now the stage is set for Zach Wilson on Friday night to capture his Heisman moment and sway the voters who haven’t given Wilson much consideration to this point of the season.
“I think it’d be really, really hard to find three or four or five guys who are doing better than he is. Obviously, the season is not over yet. But I would say based on the body of his work at this point, yeah, they should be taking him seriously [for the Heisman],” said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “I’ve only been around one other quarterback who had a season like he’s having, and that guy won the Heisman (Cam Newton). So I think he’s certainly in the conversation.”
KSL Sports agrees—Zach Wilson for Heisman.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.
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