clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson continues to blow up nationally. Here’s how he did it

Just a junior, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson almost certainly will enter next April’s NFL draft. His stock has never been higher.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) reacts after scoring a touchdown during an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson reacts after scoring a touchdown during a game against Western Kentucky at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.
Yukai Peng, Deseret News

After enjoying a good chunk of the national college football spotlight the past two months, BYU’s No. 8-ranked football team is off the radar a bit this week because it doesn’t have a game on Friday or Saturday.

But star quarterback Zach Wilson continues to blow up.

The junior from Draper’s Corner Canyon High remains among the top five candidates for the Heisman Trophy, and is reportedly soaring up NFL draft boards, although he still hasn’t officially declared for next April’s Player Selection Meeting — the draft’s official name.

Wilson, the spunky, ever-grinning, headband-wearing, humor-loving QB, who famously took two BYU cheerleaders to his high school prom after having graduated four months prior, is living his best life.

“He’s earned every bit of it,” his former high school coach, Eric Kjar, said last week. “He’s got so much talent, but he is also very, very driven. He does a good job with every facet of his life. He is always super-prepared.”

Last Saturday, a day after Wilson lit up No. 21 Boise State’s defense for 360 yards, three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in a 51-17 Cougars romp, BYU seemingly launched Wilson’s official Heisman campaign with a “#W1LSONHE1SMAN” tweet. Another tweet Sunday with the same hashtag highlighted his performance in Friday’s game on the blue turf of Albertsons Stadium even more.

Wilson’s teammates and coaches are totally on board, evidenced by offensive line coach Eric Mateos’ “My QB is the best in America” tweet Sunday and head coach Kalani Sitake’s confirmation in his weekly press briefing on Monday. The push comes even though BYU is restructuring its athletic communications department and laid off more than half of its media relations staff Monday.

“Any time we can promote our players, I am on board with it,” Sitake told the Deseret News. “So whether it is their playing ability, or things that they are doing in the community, or things they are doing as alumni, I am all about promoting what BYU players are all about.”

Wilson is all about winning, he has repeatedly said as the Heisman talk has exploded from barely a mention of the possibility last summer to a full-blown crescendo in October and November.

“It is a dream,” he said. “It is a blessing, for sure. I would say, honestly, I always tell the guys on the team this when they bring it up: It really is a team award. No one is winning the Heisman if you are losing games.”

Sitake said there is a lot of “NFL talent on this team” and has said he will support his guys if they chose to forgo their final season or two of eligibility and enter the draft. He has not commented specifically on Wilson’s situation.

Wednesday, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Wilson at No. 13 on his first-round draft board, while his colleague Todd McShay put Wilson at No. 16 on Monday.

“Wilson is legit,” Kiper wrote. “He’s only a true junior, but he has started 24 games for the Cougars, so he has a big enough sample to show NFL teams. I really like watching him.”

Dane Brugler of The Athletic has the BYU QB at No. 6 and wrote, “The story of the NFL draft process thus far has been the ascension of Wilson. … Some around the league believe he could go higher than sixth.”

Maybe the school should put tight end Isaac Rex in charge of promoting Wilson’s Heisman candidacy. The freshman from San Clemente, California, whose father Byron Rex caught passes from Heisman winner Ty Detmer at BYU, said Wilson’s teammates are thrilled for him.

“We want Zach to win the Heisman,” Isaac Rex said. “We think he should. Zach is great. We believe he is the best quarterback in the nation. And he should be a first-round pick, obviously, whenever he decides to declare. He is the real deal. Wilson for Heisman all day, and I think he should definitely be in consideration and go to New York whenever that is possible and be able to be up for that award.”

The top three to four candidates are invited to New York City for the presentation ceremony every year, although it will quite likely be a virtual ceremony this year. Still, that’s a reasonable goal for Wilson, who will have a hard time getting more votes than Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones from the more than 900 Heisman voters across the country due to not playing for a Power Five program.

“He is doing things that no other QB is doing right now, and he is leading us to an amazing year,” Rex said. “Everyone wants Zach to win the Heisman, or be nominated. We think he will have that chance, and we want to help him along the way, also.”

The Cougars’ offensive linemen, the guys who do the grunt work so Wilson can do his thing, and his weapons such as Rex, receivers Gunner Romney, Dax Milne and Neil Pau’u and running backs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier, are also ecstatic about the attention Wilson is receiving.

“It has been awesome playing with that kid,” said left tackle Brady Christensen, a candidate for the Outland Trophy. “No one works harder than Zach, so the fact that he is getting all the attention is great, and he deserves it. And as an offensive lineman, there is nothing better than your QB getting that hype, and getting that love, and playing as well as he has been playing. So it has been great.”

Wilson’s numbers rank among the best in the country, remarkable considering he’s only played all four quarters in two of BYU’s eight games: against UTSA and Houston.

“It is an aggressive mindset,” Romney said, crediting coaches for putting Wilson and the others in the right positions to succeed. “We talk about that all the time, how we want to be one of the most violent teams in the country. And that entails blocking and being violent during the play, but that also involved play-calling and being super aggressive.”

In other words, Wilson’s 75.1% completion percentage — fourth best in the country — didn’t come because he’s throwing dinks and dunks all over the field. He’s No. 5 in passing yards per attempt (11.37), the numbers most coaches point to as a truer indication of an offense’s efficiency.

Speaking of efficiency, Wilson is No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency with a mark of 201.6 and has thrown 22 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.

The 22 TD passes has him tied with a half-dozen or so others, but Wilson is averaging just 27.6 attempts per game, while the others are averaging between 35.6 and 43.5 attempts per game.

“He is so consistent, and makes so many throws that we take for granted now,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “He’s got a real confidence and a bit of a swagger, but also maintains humility. I can’t say enough about the way he’s grown.”

Wilson, who has also shown above-average running ability, is also No. 2 in most passing yards (2,512) and No. 10 in total offense (333.8 yards per game).

Wilson is fifth in ESPN’s Heisman Watch this week, and fourth on The Athletic’s list.

“I support (BYU athletic communications) 100% in everything they want to promote, whether it is for personal awards, or things like that,” Sitake said. “I am good with it. I want our players to be recognized for the things that they do, and the talent they have.”