My friend Gary Neeleman called me the other day to talk about his grandson. Again. (You might be rolling your eyes, but chances are you’ve been talking about him too.) The kid’s name is Zach. Gary has been watching him play football since the kid was 7 years old.

“We sat in the rain, we sat in the snow, we sat in the mud,” he says, meaning he and his wife Rose. “We saw every single game.”

For years he has told anyone who would listen that his grandson was a hotshot quarterback, a future star. Now everybody is saying the same thing. In the last six months the kid became a sensation and, what do you know, last weekend he was on national TV, waiting for his name to be called at the NFL draft. He didn’t have to wait long. Zach was the second player chosen overall, by the New York Jets. A short time later, Gary and Rose got a call from him.

“We sat in the rain, we sat in the snow, we sat in the mud. We saw every single game.” — Gary Neeleman

“Grandma and Grandpa, thank you for all your support,” he told them. “I love you. I’ll talk to you when I get back.”

It’s all been a little surreal for Gary and Rose. There was their grandson — Zach Wilson — on the front page of the New York papers under oversize headlines: “Zach’s Fifth Avenue” and “New Zach City.” There was their baby-faced Zach, still looking like he’s 14, smiling from the page under a green Jets cap, no facial hair, no tats, no earrings, no wild ’do, not even a blemish, just that baby face. There was the kid who searched for Gary and Rose in the stands after high school games so he could visit with them, sometimes holding one of their hands.

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“You can’t even say this is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says Gary, a former international journalist, who at 87 has been slowed by fading eyesight. “It’s once-in-a-thousand lifetimes. We were glued to the draft. We were so proud and yet so nervous.”

Gary and Rose went to Zach’s house in Draper for the post-draft party. They drove past green ribbons tied to the trees along the street (the neighbors are all-in now on the Jets) and saw a Jets flag flying over the Wilsons’ home. Aunts and uncles were at the house. Cousins. Former high school and college coaches. Neighbors. School friends. Almost everyone was there, including Zach’s Dilma. When Zach was born, his mother Lisa, who already had a 2-year-old daughter, was working for the phone company. She turned to Gary, her father, and said, “I’ve gotta have help.”

Gary, who spent much of his professional life in Brazil, made some calls to Brazil and found Dilma. Gary picked her up at Salt Lake International on Halloween night 21 years ago. She couldn’t speak English. Dilma became Zach’s beloved nanny. She endeared herself to Zach and to his family. She was family. And then three years later she married.

The day she moved out of the house, Zach stood on the driveway, bawling, “Dilma, don’t go! Dilma, don’t go!” Lisa finally said, “Zach, she married Mario. She’s going to live with him in his house. Would you rather go live with them or stay with Mommy and Daddy?” Zach thought about this a moment and answered, “I think I’ll go with Dilma.”

Dilma and her new husband settled in Tooele. She took a job working in the mini market that is owned by Zach’s father Mike. She has remained in close contact with Zach and his family. She sent him notes after each of his games and he sent her notes. He carries some of those notes in his wallet.

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Dilma came to the party. “I’m so thrilled,” she told Gary.

So many people had helped Zach along the way, and Zach felt this keenly. When he decided to announce his decision to leave school early for the draft, he posted a lengthy note online in which he thanked the BYU coaches, one by one. He brought, among others, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar to Cleveland for the draft, on his tab. When employees of the BYU athletic department reported to work the following Monday they found gifts from Zach — including autographed No. 1 gear. Oh, and he bought his mother a BMW as a surprise.

“That’s the kind of kid he is,” says Gary. “He likes to say, ‘I want to be humble and kind.’ His mom says, ‘That’s what he always has been and that’s what he always will be.’”

The mood of the draft party was grateful and chummy. Gary told Sitake, “Thanks for everything you’ve done for Zach,” and Sitake replied, “It’s the other way around; it’s what he did for us and for me personally and for the program.”

Everything has been happening so fast. In the offseason Wilson became the most discussed prospect in the country. His stock seemed to rise each week long after the season ended. When the Jets traded away their young quarterback of the future, everyone knew they were positioning themselves to take the BYU kid. Zach was signed as a client by the William Morris Endeavor agency, which represents a long list of A-list movie stars, athletes, musicians and so on.

Companies called wanting to hire Zach as a spokesman. He struck a deal with Traeger Grills. He struck deal with Nike. Gary says a representative from a bug exterminating company offered him $35,000 just to wear one of its hats. His agency said no.

Then Zach jetted off to the draft and the Jets. They showed him the team facilities and the town. According to Gary, shortly after the draft, Zach received a phone call from Jets coach Robert Saleh, who told him, “You don’t have to think that you have to lift us, because we’re going to lift you.” If Zach was overwhelmed he was keeping it to himself. After all the hoopla of the draft and the Big Apple, at one point Zach told his grandpa, “I’m OK. I’m in good shape. I believe in them (Jets). I’m going to do the best I can.”

Gary of course is enjoying all of this immensely and, being an old reporter, he likes to report all things Zach to his friends. When a reporter from Brazil’s largest sports newspaper called Gary wanting to interview him about Zach, he was happy to comply. “You don’t even play football in Brazil,” Gary said. The reporter replied, “The Brazilian connection is important to our readers. We want a story on Zach.”

Gary served as a missionary in Brazil for three years before taking a job there as a correspondent for UPI. Three of his seven children were born in Brazil. He traveled to Brazil several times each year for nearly 30 years as vice president over Latin America for UPI. Gary talked to the reporter for an hour, in Portuguese.

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“There are a lot of Brazilians in New York,” Gary says. “Now there is a Jets fan base in Brazil.”

Gary and Rose have been there every step of the way for Zach’s football career and if Zach has his way they’ll be there when he steps on an NFL field. During the party, he told Gary, “Grandpa, you and Grandma are coming back there.”

This time he won’t have to sit in the mud.

Correction: In the original version of this article, it incorrectly stated the NFL draft was in Cincinnati. The draft was held in Cleveland.

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