Count BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick among those who helped get Zach Wilson to the top of the NFL draft
Zach Wilson says his father, Mike Wilson, and coaches such as Aaron Roderick, Jeff Grimes, John Beck and Kalani Sitake helped him get where he is now as a probable top-two NFL draft pick
In four days, former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson will walk across a makeshift stage in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie and not far from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and hug NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Some time Thursday night, possibly many times, Wilson will be asked about the people who helped him make sweet music on the football field and become, quite probably, the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Wilson, poised to become the highest-drafted BYU football player in the history of the program, will and should name his father, former University of Utah defensive lineman Mike Wilson, as the first and most significant developer of his career.
“For sure, my dad has been the most influential person in my football playing from Day 1,” Zach Wilson told the Deseret News last December. “He has always had a lot of input. He has always been very supportive. We would just figure stuff out on our own — because he was too big to play quarterback so he didn’t have that built-in knowledge — from the very beginning.”
“He’s the man. He just has this feel for what quarterbacks go through, although he was a receiver (at BYU). He probably likes to study the game, learn about the game, and watch film as much as I do.” — Zach Wilson on BYU assistant coach Aaron Roderick.
Of course, as has been well-documented, former BYU QB John Beck “took me to the next level,” Zach Wilson said. More recently, Wilson has spent considerable time talking to former BYU QB Steve Young, the Hall of Famer, about off-the-field matters, such as how to handle the crush of publicity, especially if he’s drafted by the New York Jets and has to adjust from the No. 30 media market in the country (Salt Lake City-Provo) to the biggest media market in the world.
Wilson has also reached out to former Jets quarterbacks such as Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez and Josh McCown via the telephone and asked for advice on living and playing in the Big Apple, Beck told the NFL Network.
Wilson didn’t become an Eagle Scout, or serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as many of his teammates did, but he has been big on preparation his entire life. Hence, the phone calls to his expected predecessors.
Another man that Wilson will almost certainly mention Thursday night is the coach who developed him at BYU, three-year quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick, who was promoted to offensive coordinator when Jeff Grimes left for Baylor. Wilson has said that Grimes was also instrumental in his rise.
But he saves the most effusive praise for Roderick, a soft-spoken, quarterback-whisperer type who has spent much of the past four months talking to every team in the NFL about the phenom from Draper’s Corner Canyon High.
“Too many to count,” Roderick said last month when asked how many NFL personnel directors to which he’s spoken. “It got exhausting for awhile. … I was happy to do it for him, of course, but yeah, a lot of teams like him, I know that.”
And Wilson really likes Roderick, who became a calming presence for the quarterback, especially during Wilson’s first two seasons in Provo when things didn’t go nearly as smoothly as they did the last.
“He’s the man,” Wilson said. “He just has this feel for what quarterbacks go through, although he was a receiver (at BYU). He probably likes to study the game, learn about the game, and watch film as much as I do.”
That’s saying something, because Wilson watches an extraordinarily high amount of film, his teammates and coaches have said since the day he stepped foot on campus.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said teammate and housemate Brayden Cosper, a BYU receiver. “He is addicted to it. When he’s not watching it, you wonder if something is wrong.”
So what does Roderick tell all those scouts, coaches and general managers about Wilson?
“That he has a relentless work ethic, that he never gets tired of practicing, playing or talking about football,” Roderick told the Deseret News in January. “That he loves the game of football, and he loves to win. That he is coachable and can take criticism, and that he is driven to succeed like few people I have ever been around.”
Ironically, Roderick also knows Sam Darnold, because when he was at Utah he recruited Darnold to play college football in Salt Lake City, but Darnold chose USC. Of course, Darnold was the Jets’ starter last year, but was traded to Carolina to presumably clear the way for Wilson to be a starter his rookie season.
“Zach has learned the hard way that when things don’t go well, you sometimes get more blame than you deserve, and when things are going good, you sometimes get maybe a little more credit than you deserve,” Roderick said. “He has handled it all very well and I am really proud of him, and have really enjoyed being his coach.”
Beck has rightfully been credited with helping Wilson take the step from above-average to sensational, but another quarterback guru, Dustin Smith of Utah-based QB Elite, has also been involved.
Smith’s assessment of Wilson: “Zach has elite, best of the best, arm talent. You are not a first round draft choice if you don’t. There is arm talent, and then there is, ‘you are one of the top five arms in the world for your age.’ And that’s where Zach is, right?”
Smith says Wilson took the step to elite status because he improved his accuracy, which improved when he got healthier after shoulder surgery in January of 2019 — eight months before his sophomore season.
“Where Zach really became elite was when his accuracy tightened up, and he learned to not force certain throws, and how to spot the ball in certain areas,” Smith said. “And that’s what the guys like Tom Brady and the Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees do.”
BYU QBs coach Aaron Roderick on Zach Wilson's success this year: "I still have an inbox full of hate mail from people who didn’t want him to be the starting quarterback this year. So we have both, I would say, had a chip on our shoulder every day this season.”— Jay Drew (@drewjay) November 19, 2020