PROVO — BYU football players and coaches have reached the point in preseason training camp where they don’t even think about it anymore.
No, we’re not talking about next week’s rivalry game against the No. 14-ranked Utah Utes. That’s not far from anybody’s mind.
It is quarterback Zach Wilson’s surgically repaired right shoulder that is no longer a topic of conversation.
“Yeah, I am 100% ready to go,” Wilson said Wednesday afternoon after a workout at LaVell Edwards Stadium that was more practice than scrimmage. “Ready to go right now. I think the team is ready to go in general. Pieces are coming together. Obviously, we have game week coming up next, and that’s where we really start dialing in on preparation and all that kind of stuff. So, we are ready to go.”
Although a limited number of boosters attended the event and plays were broadcast over a public address system, head coach Kalani Sitake said there was no tackling and there was more emphasis on the “mental parts” of the game than the physical.
“In the past we have gone live with the young guys towards the end,” Sitake said. “A few years back and last year we had a few guys get injured, even on our prep squad, and those guys are very valuable for us in giving our guys the right looks. So today was a little bit more of a thud tempo and from what I saw it was competitive and really good.”
- From left, BYU wide receiver Talon Shumway, quarterback Zach Wilson and coach Kalani Sitake talk while walking off the field during the Cougars’ practice Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Courtesy BYU Athletics
- BYU defensive back George Udo goes through drills during the Cougars’ practice Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Courtesy BYU Athletics
- BYU tight end Matt Bushman runs with the ball during the Cougars’ practice Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Courtesy BYU Athletics
- BYU wide receiver Dax Milne, right, runs with the ball during the Cougars’ practice Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Courtesy BYU Athletics
- BYU coach Kalani Sitake talks to the team during the Cougars’ practice Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Courtesy BYU Athletics
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said it is “too close to the game to be tackling” and simply not worth the risk.
“Right now it is just about polish and execution and just trying to be ready for game day,” Roderick said.
As for Wilson’s readiness level, the man who has mentored the sophomore the past year and a half said Wilson’s shoulder is fine, perhaps even stronger than before the surgery.
“We don’t even think about it any more,” Roderick said. “We are still counting throws every day, but there have been no restrictions. He has been able to do everything. He played well in camp and he appears to be on track.”
Roderick said redshirt freshman Jaren Hall is Wilson’s chief backup, as he’s been all throughout camp. Joe Critchlow and Baylor Romney are still “close” in their duel to be the third-stringer.
“I don’t feel like I need to declare who No. 3 is right now, though,” Roderick said. “If we were to lose a No. 1 or No. 2 QB, I would decide then. Both have different strengths. I like both of them.”
Senior receiver Aleva Hifo said Wilson has emerged as a leader because of how he’s rallied the team to workouts and film sessions in the offseason and how he’s “earned it” on the field.
“He has won over this offense, and the team overall,” said Hifo, who also had offseason shoulder surgery. “He’s looking really good. He looks totally healthy. He has surprised some people. Even coming into camp, a lot of people weren’t sure how his arm would be. I am definitely sure now that he has proved he is ready to play in that game next week, and throughout the whole season. He came back healthier, his arm is stronger, and he’s more accurate.”
Wilson wasn’t disappointed about not scrimmaging live eight days before the opener, saying that for a quarterback, it doesn’t make a huge difference and most prefer not to expose their bodies to potential injury.
When the Cougars did simulate game conditions Wednesday, the No. 1 offense went against the scout team defense, and vice versa, according to Roderick.
Before the practice, the Cougars heard from Patti Edwards, wife of the late LaVell Edwards. Sitake said it is important to him that his players know about the legendary coach and the tradition of success he established in Provo.
“It was awesome,” Wilson said. “I mean, I was locked in and glued into what she was saying. It was so cool to hear some of her past stories with coach Edwards. I stepped back and took a look around and all the guys around me had a little grin on their face and they were all dialed in to what she was saying as well. It was cool hearing about her belief in this team and her love for BYU football.”