This is the story of Zach Wilson’s Little Brother.
No, let’s start over.
This is the story of Isaac Wilson. Everyone calls him Zach’s Little Brother — as in the little brother of the New York Jets quarterback, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft. The moniker and the constant comparisons are burdensome and bothersome. That’s all anyone calls him — Zach’s Little Brother. Next thing you know that’s what will appear on his driver’s license: Zach Wilson’s Little Brother.
“I’ve always been in his shadow. I don’t want to be part of that. I want to make my own name. But it’s a good thing being his brother. He’s going through everything I’ll be going through.” — Corner Canyon High QB Isaac Wilson on being Zach Wilson’s little brother
ZLB, if you hadn’t heard, is the junior quarterback for Corner Canyon High, which will meet Skyridge in the 6A state championship game Friday morning. Anyway, you don’t know what it’s like to play in the shadow of You Know Who. Everywhere he goes, he’s Zach’s Little Brother — and the comparisons begin: Is he as good as Big Brother?
Asked if he was tired of the comparisons, Isaac answers before the question is finished.
“Yes!” says Zach’s Little Brother. “I’ve always been in his shadow. I don’t want to be part of that. I want to make my own name.” He thinks about this a moment and softens it. “But it’s a good thing being his brother, too. He’s going through everything I’ll be going through.”
All of this was bound to happen. He plays the same position for the same high school as You Know Who. He even wears the same jersey number (1) that his brother wore in high school and college (“I always looked up to him, so I’ve worn that number since sixth grade”). And then there’s this: He could be You Know Who’s twin. Their faces are nearly identical. Even his parents can’t tell them apart sometimes.
During one of Corner Canyon’s televised games, ESPN showed a photo of Isaac on the screen with his stats. Only it wasn’t his photo. It was Zach’s. Says Isaac, “My father showed me the picture and I said, ‘That’s not me.’ Even my dad didn’t know.”
He can’t catch a break.
Standing on the sidelines during a Monday night practice, Preston Rasmussen, the team’s kicker, addresses the subject at hand: “Everyone knows him as Zach Wilson’s Little Brother. They’re always comparing them. You see it online too. They’ll say things like, ‘How does he compare to Zach when he was this age.’ When people talk about Isaac, they talk about Zach.”
Opponents are no exception. “I don’t even think they know my name,” says Isaac. “They just call me Zach Wilson’s little brother.”
Corner Canyon High coach Eric Kjar says he hears the comparisons all the time. “Recruiters come to watch him and almost all of them will say he throws just like his brother.”
Even ZLB’s mother, Lisa, has fallen into the comparison trap. During a video she shared online, she showed a stack of letters that Zach’s Little Brother is receiving from colleges — letters from Maryland, Colorado, Duke, Arizona, USC, Alabama, Oregon State — and then she noted, “Zach hardly got any of those. It was really hard to get schools to take a look at him.”
On the other hand, Zach’s reputation undoubtedly helped get Little Brother noticed sooner than he otherwise might have, although his play would have drawn attention eventually anyway.
In 13 games ZLB has thrown for 3,588 yards and 39 touchdowns, completing 62% of his passes (218-352 ). He’s had six games with more than 300 yards passing, including a 450-yard night in the season opener. He’s also had, ahem, 16 interceptions, including four in the semifinal game against Farmington.
“Don’t bring that up,” says ZLB, smiling. He is a bit of a gunslinger, like You Know Who, and possesses a fast, powerful arm that can whip the ball downfield, like You Know Who. In his first season as a starter he has played a big role in the success of the Chargers, who have won 11 of 13 games.
Actually, Big Brother is not the only one who casts a long shadow over Isaac. Playing quarterback at Corner Canyon creates high expectations even for those who don’t have an NFL quarterback for a brother. These are the last four quarterbacks to play for Corner Canyon under head coach/offensive guru Kjar:
• 2017: Zach Wilson. He’s in his second season as the Jets’ starting quarterback. Limited to 10 games during his senior year because of injuries, he completed 170 of 297 passes (57%) for 2,986 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for another 752 yards and eight TDs. The Chargers lost in the semifinals and finished the season with an 11-1 record. Wilson was selected as the 5A MVP (the school moved to 6A a year later).
• 2018, 2019: Cole Hagen. A recently returned church missionary, he is transferring from Yale to BYU. In his two seasons as the starting QB, Hagen led the Chargers to a 28-0 record and two state championships. He passed for 7,065 yards, 80 TDs and 23 interceptions and ran for 1,766 yards and 20 TDs. As a senior he threw for 3,655 yards and 43 TDs and ran for 1,069 yards and 11 TDs and was named Utah’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
• 2020: Jaxson Dart. He’s the starting quarterback at Ole Miss, where he transferred after starting several games for USC last season. As a senior at Corner Canyon, Dart passed for 4,691 yards and a state-record 67 TDs (with only four interceptions) and rushed for 1,195 yards and 12 TDs in leading the Chargers to another state championship. He was voted national player of the year by Gatorade and MaxPreps.
• 2021: Devin Brown. He’s a freshman backup quarterback at Ohio State. As a senior at Corner Canyon, he threw for 4,881 yards and 57 touchdowns and ran for 430 yards and eight TDs. The Chargers reached the state championship game for the fourth straight year, but lost.
“That’s the crazy part,” says Kjar. “Isaac’s got to play in the shadow of those guys, let alone his brother.”
Which brings us back to ZLB. His ascension to the starting job has been anticipated for years. When Zach was making his star turns at Corner Canyon and BYU, fans and coaches were saying, “You should see Zach’s Little Brother. He’s going to be a good one.”
Little Brother has actually surpassed Big Brother’s High School play, but, as ZLB notes, “I’ve been put in a different situation. (Zach) had only one season with Coach Kjar (who debuted as Corner Canyon’s coach in Wilson’s senior season). I’ve played for him for three years. And I throw a lot more.”
If we’re going to succumb to comparisons, let’s ask the coach who knows the quarterbacks best.
“There are definitely similarities,” says Kjar. “Their throwing abilities, their throwing motions, their mechanics are similar, which makes sense since they both trained with (former BYU quarterback) John Beck. Personality-wise, there are small differences. Isaac is a little more relaxed. Zach was so focused and dialed in all the time. Both are super smart and have a lot of throwing ability. Isaac’s a little shorter than Zach was at this age and that bugs him. I tell him he’s got to worry about what he can control.”
Kjar, who has had only one quarterback start more than one season in the past five years, adds, “I anticipate a big jump his second year. I haven’t had that for a while. That will be exciting. I love Isaac. He’s such a good kid, and he’s fun to work with.”
The comparisons are unavoidable, but Kjar notes, “The good part is that his teammates don’t do it much. You never hear them calling him Zach’s Little Brother. He’s just Isaac.”
Kjar spends a lot of his time each day fielding calls from big-name coaches around the country inquiring about Zach’s Little Brother. Beyond the schools mentioned in Lisa’s video, Tennessee has shown a lot of interest lately — head coach Josh Heupel called ZLB personally. Defending national champion Georgia has called. “He’s had a ton of offers already,” says Kjar, including those from BYU, Utah, Utah State, Miami and Arizona, among others.
Big Brother used the Jets’ bye week to fly out for Little Brother’s semifinal game. He sat in the stands and watched as Isaac threw those aforementioned four interceptions. “He told me not to worry about the four picks,” says Isaac. “He did the same thing against New England (last season).”
Little Brother and Big Brother exchange texts and phone calls regularly. Zach, as well as his father, advises Isaac to ignore the constant and inevitable comparisons. “Be your own person and ignore social media,” he tells him.
Zach’s Little Brother is trying to do just that as he sets out to find his own place in the game.