PROVO — The last time anyone saw BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in an official competitive setting, it was a frigid afternoon in Boise at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in December.
All Wilson did that day was complete 18 of 18 passes in a resounding win over Western Michigan on the blue turf. Not long after the season ended, he underwent surgery to repair his throwing shoulder. Then while he was recovering, he missed spring practices.
But on the final day of July, as the Cougars opened fall camp, Wilson was slinging passes again — on the green turf of the Indoor Practice Facility, where the team practiced Wednesday due to stormy weather.
The sophomore and incumbent starting QB from Draper is back. And he looked crisp and sharp on Day One.
“I just came out here like nothing was wrong,” Wilson said. “Shoot, I was getting those anxious butterflies last night. Not nervous, but just excited. It’s been a crazy seven months, how fast everything’s flown by. I was just excited to get out here.”
Coach Kalani Sitake isn’t concerned about Wilson being ready to go when BYU hosts archrival Utah in the season-opener on Aug. 29.
“He’s going to be fine. I have no worries about Zach,” Sitake said. “We’re still working on him getting his legs back and be able to do everything 100 percent. He’s really close. He’ll be ready.”
“I thought he looked good for where he’s at. He still has a ways to go. We all have a ways to go before the first game,” said running back Lopini Katoa. “But I thought his presence brought confidence and his ability to make plays and extend plays was on the field today. He looked good. Obviously, he’s not 100 percent but he’ll get there.”
“Zach looked pretty good. He’s made good progress,” said wide receiver Micah Simon. “That was the plan all along. He knew he’d be good to go by camp. It’s great to have him back.”
Overall, Sitake liked how his team prepared during the summer.
“It was a really good Day One. I liked the excitement from our players,” he said. “I could tell these guys worked really hard in the offseason. A lot of coaches say that but it’s evident in the way they look and the way they’re executing.”
In the second year under offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, the offense looked more comfortable and confident than it did a year ago.
The offense improved and jelled during the summer, Wilson said.
“The receivers, our O-line, the running backs, they all bought in. I know a lot of those guys have taken it personal how good they want to be and how they want to help this team be good. I know a lot of them took big strides this summer doing extra and it shows out here.”
What did Sitake see on the first day of practice?
“Execution was really good. As long as we keep focusing on the details and keep working together, I’m really happy with what our coaches did in the spring and in the offseason and with what our players did with our coaches’ teaching," he said. "You can see a huge improvement in them understanding the offense and the defense. We’re taking a huge step forward with that. It helps that it’s the second year of this offense. It’s not so brand-new anymore like it was last year. We have a lot of returning guys that can help lead the way and help teach as well. That made it for a really good Day One.”
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb was pleased with the attitude of the players.
“Today there was a positive energy, a respect between offense and defense, yet nobody backing down,” he said. “Just a ton of effort and speed and execution going on. The challenge will be to keep that.”
Linebacker Zayne Anderson, who is also coming back from an injury, was glad to be back at practice.
“It was good to get everyone flying around again. There was a lot of energy. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time to get back on the field,” he said. “There were mistakes that were made, but that’s kind of what happens on Day One. We’ll clean that up. We’re excited to be out here. It’s good be back with football.”
Certainly, there’s been a heightened sense of urgency during the offseason and that will continue during fall camp considering the opener is against Utah, a team that BYU hasn’t beaten in a decade.
“We had that mentality going into spring football,” Sitake said. “Having the guys take the same mentality going into the offseason has been really nice. Our guys worked really hard.”