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Adding Zach Wilson highlights BYU's emphasis on spring QB competition

PROVO — BYU's signing of Zach Wilson signals a full bus of quarterbacks in Provo.

It also means competition for that position should be considered wide open this spring, or Wilson and Stacy Conner may not have signed.

Fostering competition is just one way of improving that position for Kalani Sitake.

Zach Wilson played with a chip on his shoulder at Corner Canyon High to prove himself. That, and his sudden growth spurt led to late offers from Cal, BYU and Oregon State for the quarterback previously committed to Boise State but signed by BYU on Thursday.

Wilson will enroll at BYU in three weeks. There, he’ll find himself in a battle with Joe Critchlow, Kody Wilstead and Koy Detmer, while Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge heal from injuries. Maple Mountain’s Jaren Hall will join the competition after returning from an LDS Church mission this summer.

Another QB in the Class of 2018 who will also join Wilson enrolling into school Jan. 8 is Conner. Wilson signed with BYU knowing Conner had signed with the Cougars the day before.

Both are considered dual-threat quarterbacks. Conner is an athlete who could also play wide receiver.

“I feel like he really grew up between his junior and senior years,” said Mountain West Elite co-owner Riley Jensen, a former QB at Utah State and BYU. “Physically, he just came into his own and coach (Eric) Kjar putting him a system that would showcase his talent helped a lot as well.

“I do feel if he had had the same frame as a junior as he did as a senior, he would have had more P5 offers earlier.”

As it ended, Wilson had late offers from two Pac-12 teams and BYU, plus Minnesota and Syracuse. Hawaii, USU and Weber State had made offers previously.

Jensen said Wilson’s late growth included more than an inch in height, plus 20 pounds of “that ever valued lean muscle mass” the past year. “That signaled to P5 schools he was not only a dedicated athlete but a capable prospect for getting himself better,” said Jensen.

Pulu Otukolo, co-founder of Level Up Elite Camp, said Wilson was motivated to prove he was the best quarterback in the state, a desire that earned him 5A MVP by KSL-TV.

“His entire team entered the season with few guys being recruited and Zach and the others played with a chip on their shoulders. I think Zach certainly did,” said Otukolo.

Jensen said Wilson has tremendous arm strength and surprising foot speed. “It’s more lateral quickness than straight ahead running speed.”

According to Jensen, Wilson is a quarterback who doesn’t believe the moment is too big for him.

“The first time I saw Taysom Hill play, he threw an interception and I was curious to see how he reacted to it," Jensen said. "He came off the field like it was nothing. That is what I’m talking about. He doesn’t get down or let adversity get to him, he just keeps coming at you.”

Does it mean — if the QB position chart remains as projected — that BYU will be looking at eight quarterbacks come fall practice? Or does Sitake know right now he may be losing some QBs on the roster due to transfers either by his suggestion or their own design?

It means Sitake and new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes are dead serious about fixing the QB position, a spot that ended the season with walk-on fourth-stringer Critchlow being groomed in the heat of battle in November when so much time was invested in Mangum and Hoge during fall camp.

The Wilson signing, a quick move by Sitake after relieving Ty Detmer of coordinator duties, may also be pushing some networking of buddies. Through camps, 7-on-7 tournaments and basketball, Wilson is linked to Lehi tight end Dallin Holker, a BYU unsigned commit, and the just-signed Brayden Cosper of Bingham.

“Zach knows all those guys from football and basketball,” said Otukolo.

The late come-on by BYU could also be tied to an interest of a potential new offensive staff yet to be named.

BYU needs to not only find the right guy who can lead, be efficient and productive, but as Grimes told the media a week ago, be flexible in design to fit the talent at that spot and surrounding cast.

As Jensen observed, it doesn’t matter who is BYU’s quarterback coach, whether it be Brandon Doman, Detmer or whoever might be hired, “They have to be able to get their quarterbacks to progress from their freshman to sophomore years — this is critical.”

As it stands, and this is a big challenge, Wilson, Conner, Wilstead, Critchlow and Hall are all freshmen this spring in one form or another. But combined, they passed for 29,754 yards and 300 touchdowns during their high school careers.

On the other hand, Mangum and Hoge are question marks with their health and Koy Detmer joins them as the most experienced talent on the roster.

Can Grimes cobble this into a force against Arizona, Washington, Utah, Boise State and Wisconsin in 2018?

It will be fun to see how he attacks the challenge.