‘This organization is going to lift you’: What the New York Jets told Zach Wilson before they drafted him
‘Oh, what a night’: BYU coach Kalani Sitake honored to be among those invited to share the spotlight with his former QB Thursday at the NFL draft in Cleveland
CLEVELAND — Moments after the 86th NFL draft began in Cleveland on Thursday night, Zach Wilson took a call from the New York Jets brass letting him know that they were about to select the former BYU quarterback with the No. 2 pick.
“You could just see the emotion pouring out,” said Sitake, who was invited by Wilson to attend the festivities, along with several of Wilson’s former coaches, mentors and trainers. “It just all sunk in for them. I am honored to have been able to witness that.”
The night before, the entire Wilson family, Sitake, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake, former BYU quarterback John Beck and Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar had dinner together in a downtown Cleveland hotel.
“The biggest thing I want to tell you, just remember this: This organization is going to lift you. Not the other way around. Enjoy this day. … It will be all gas from here on out.” — New York Jets coach Robert Saleh
“Last night at dinner, Zach was really emotional and you could just see how respectful he is and thankful he is for everything that has gone on the last few years,” Sitake said. “I am just really, really happy for him, man. But it doesn’t surprise me. It meant a lot to him for us to be here. That was an easy request for us to grant.”
Wilson won’t be asked to be the Jets’ savior, new coach Robert Saleh told him during that call.
“The biggest thing I want to tell you, just remember this: This organization is going to lift you. Not the other way around,” Saleh told Wilson. “Enjoy this day. … It will be all gas from here on out.”
Jets owner Woody Johnson took the phone and told Wilson: “I think I probably know more about you than I know about my own kids.”
Indeed, the Jets did their homework, Sitake said, alluding to “many” conversations he and other BYU coaches have had with team officials the past several months.
Having attended BYU’s pro day back on March 26, the Jets locked in on Wilson and never wavered, said general manager Joe Douglas.
“We spent a lot of time with him on the Zoom call, and watched a lot of tape from his unbelievable junior year,” Douglas said. “But ultimately, that pro day really cemented it.”
In the same news conference late Thursday night, Saleh said of all the top quarterbacks available, the Jets identified Wilson as the one who could best run the offense they will implement in the Big Apple.
“When you look at Zach, a lot of principles that he (utilized) in college, you can see it, they ran a lot of our system,” Saleh said. “And so you can see him making all those throws, you can see the deep bench routes to the sideline, you can see the over-the-middle throws, the boots, the play-action pass game.”
At BYU’s pro day, Beck put together a script and Wilson threw more than 60 passes to other draft hopefuls Matt Bushman and Aleva Hifo. Former BYU receiver Micah Simon was also there and signed a free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers.
“During his pro day, they ran a lot of the routes that we run, and he made all those throws,” Saleh said. “So you could see him have some success in our system. There is going to be some carryover. I just think this system is built for quarterbacks. It is a quarterback-friendly system. It is designed to help these kids. It is pitch and catch.”
Saleh said that although Wilson may look young for his age, he has the mental maturity of a seasoned veteran.
“You have got to have a quarterback who has a tremendous amount of mental horsepower, and he’s got all of it,” Saleh said.
Wilson was scheduled to fly to New York on Friday and meet with the media there. Saturday night, former teammates, friends and family will gather at Mike and Lisa Wilson’s home in Draper to celebrate the tremendous accomplishment.
Kalani Sitake is hoping Saturday, when rounds 4-7 will be held, is another big day for the program he took over in 2016. He’s compiled a 38-26 career record, including an 11-1 season last year with Wilson and company.
“This kid is ready for it,” Sitake said of Wilson playing in the biggest media market in the world. “He is ready for this NFL journey, and I can’t wait to see him get started and to see what that coaching staff and the GM and the front office will do to get that team ready. I obviously like what they are doing already.”
It was a record-setting night in what Sitake hopes will be a record-setting draft for BYU. Wilson becomes the highest BYU player ever taken in the annual Player Selection Meeting, and the first Cougar chosen in the first round since the Detroit Lions made Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah the No. 5 pick in 2013.
Wilson is the 10th BYU player taken in the first round of the regular NFL draft, 12th if the league’s 1984 supplemental draft of USFL and CFL players is counted.
It was fitting that Kjar, who coached Wilson at Corner Canyon High, was in the green room Thursday because Wilson is now the highest drafted product of a Utah high school; Logan High’s Merlin Olsen went No. 3 overall to the Los Angeles Rams in 1962.
Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints is the only other former BYU QB currently playing in the NFL, but Hill went undrafted in 2017 before the Green Bay Packers signed him as a free agent that year.
Wilson becomes the 12th BYU QB drafted, joining Beck, Brandon Doman, John Walsh, Ty Detmer, Robbie Bosco, Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen, Gary Sheide, Virgil Carter and Dee Chipman.
Wilson said he’s ready to continue that legacy under the biggest spotlight in the league.
“What is exciting about being a quarterback is you are always going to have eyes on you, and there is always going to be adversity and ups and downs, and people having their opinion of you, and I think that’s what you sign up for being a quarterback,” he said. “You gotta be able to brush it off and understand what is truly important. I have been working on that since I was 7 years old, how to handle being a quarterback. So at this stage, you just learn to deal with it, and it is exciting no matter what.”