As BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson left the practice field, he was approached by a member of the team’s sports information department.
With just a hint of exasperation in his voice, Wilson said, “Oh, today’s Wednesday, isn’t it?”
Wednesday is when the media horde gets to request offensive players and coaches for interviews. They were just finishing up with offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and guess who they wanted to talk to now?
The Cougars’ starting quarterback.
It’s all part of the job, as any former BYU quarterback will tell you.
Everyone, it seems, wants to know all about Wilson right now.
Former BYU quarterback John Beck coached Wilson with 3DQB, a quarterback training school. Beck appeared on ESPN 960 with Ben Criddle and talked about Wilson’s first starting gig.
“I thought he did a great job,” Beck said. “It was a definite ‘A’ performance. The first time I met Zach, I was really impressed not only with his ability and his work ethic but with his poise and the way he carried himself. I saw that manifest against Hawaii. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the speed of the game. Zach creates stuff with his movement and when you can really, truly create plays you make it hard on the defense.
“He throws a great ball. He has a lot of arm talent and he’s very accurate. When I had him (at 3DQB) I was really impressed with his understanding of ball placement. My job is kind of like walking a golf course with a player, shaping shots and talking them through things. When I worked with Zach, he was really ahead of the curve in understanding what to do.”
Wilson isn’t the only freshman making an impact on this year’s BYU team. As the season has progressed, more and more freshmen or redshirt freshmen have carved out playing time. Ten different freshmen have started (eight on offense, two on defense). Freshmen have accounted for 50.6 percent of the scoring and three of the top four scorers are freshmen – kicker Skyler Southam, running back Lopini Katoa and wide receiver Gunner Romney.
Only one team in the FBS — Minnesota — plays more freshmen.
“It is a challenge because we have lot of young players trying to learn our schemes,” BYU quarterback coach Aaron Roderick said. “They are also new to defenses we’re playing and the speed of the game is new to them each week. It’s a huge challenge and we have to carefully weigh every week how much we’re asking of each individual freshmen. We keep close track of our play count and our personnel groups with our freshmen.”
Running the offensive show is the youngest player to start at quarterback in BYU history.
“It’s hard because the quarterback has to know everything,” Roderick said. “Zach has to know what all 11 guys do every play. That’s part of the reason why Zach didn’t play earlier in the year. Now we feel like he’s getting it. He’s not there yet, but he’s getting it.”
This week’s opponent, Northern Illinois, has a rugged defense and has had an extra week to dissect Wilson’s game video.
“He’s still got quite a few things left in his bag he hasn’t shown,” Roderick said.
Eric Kjar only coached Wilson as a varsity player for one season at Corner Canyon, but has known the family since Wilson was 10 years old and playing little league football. He also coached Wilson during his freshman season at Jordan High School.
“He’s always been able to throw accurately and it looks effortless for him,” Kjar said. “He’s a driven kid, too. He’s self-motivated and puts in all the work in the weight room and the film room. He has that killer instinct and he’s really competitive.”
In his career at Corner Canyon, Wilson threw for 6,691 yards and 54 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. He also ran for 1,152 yards and 11 scores. As a senior, Wilson led Corner Canyon to an undefeated regular season and the 5A state semifinals. In that game – a 34-33 loss to Skyridge – Wilson was playing on a bad ankle but still threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another score.
“He’s always been really confident,” Kjar said. “He had a good mindset about going to BYU. He knew what he was tackling when he decided to go there. BYU is doing a really good job of utilizing his talents. I think they’ll keep adding stuff as he moves along in the season.”
Corner Canyon is once again undefeated heading in the state playoffs but its first round game against Murray is scheduled for Saturday at noon. The BYU game against Northern Illinois is at 1:30 p.m. Zach’s younger brother, Josh, is a linebacker for Corner Canyon and the family is trying to work out the details of watching both play.
“Josh is our starting middle linebacker,” Kjar said. “He’s a different kind of player than Zach. He’s more of a thumper.”
Wilson committed to Boise State in June of 2017 but had a change of heart and opted to come to Provo late in the recruiting process – much to the consternation of his family, where his father, Michael, played football at the University of Utah.
This week Wilson’s mother, Lisa, posted a video on social media of the family struggling through the BYU fight song right after Zach made the switch.
Wilson said he was unaware of the video — “My mother doesn’t tell me anything,” he said — and admitted his family still doesn’t know the words very well. But, he added, they don’t really know the words to the Utah fight song, either.
The family has season tickets to Utah games and Zach attended last week’s Utah-USC game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in his BYU gear.
Wilson said he admires the way Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers keeps plays alive and makes plays with his feet. But he doesn’t really understand the hero worship that follows a BYU quarterback.
“It’s not as crazy as I thought it would be,” Wilson said. “People make a bigger deal out of it than I think it is, to be honest. I’m just here playing football with my friends. When people say, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s so-and-so from BYU’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? I’m just a normal kid. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ That kind of stuff is crazy, but it is a cool experience.”
Wilson is excited for his second start against Northern Illinois, which is led by NFL prospect Sutton Smith at defensive end. Wilson said he trusts his tackles to keep him upright. Next week will be another unique challenge as he’ll face the team he originally committed to, Boise State.
As for the other distractions that come from being a BYU quarterback, he tries to stay focused on the task at hand.
“I don’t look at Twitter, I don’t look at Instagram,” Wilson said. “I just stay with the guys I know and personally are close with. I don’t let anyone else come close who wants to talk to you about football. I just stay humble and stay where my feet are.”