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‘Bring it on’: Bulked-up Zach Wilson meets call for open starting QB competition at BYU with zestful enthusiasm

Cougars began spring football practices Monday in Provo with a ‘huge sense of urgency,’ head coach Kalani Sitake says after ‘disappointing’ finish to 2019 season

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson participates in team drills as the Cougars football team holds their first spring practice in the Indoor Practice Facility on BYU’s campus in Provo on Monday, March 2, 2020.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

PROVO — Bring it on.

That’s what rising junior quarterback Zach Wilson said about the competition to be BYU’s starting quarterback this fall as spring practices began Monday afternoon at the Indoor Practice Facility on campus.

But Wilson didn’t just announce his readiness with his words. He showed it with a heftier, more chiseled physique. It was quite obvious that the Corner Canyon product spent time in the weight room the past few months, after an uneven performance in BYU’s 38-34 loss to Hawaii on Christmas Eve.

“Yeah, for sure,” Wilson said when he was asked if he’s put on some weight. “I am 209-210 right now. Hopefully I can keep climbing. … I am hoping I can get up around 215, 220, whatever it is, whatever I am comfortable at.”

Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick told the Deseret News last week the three-headed quarterback derby between Wilson and sophomores Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney would be a “wide-open competition,” and all three QBs said coaches delivered on that promise Monday.

Head coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes — sporting a sling on his right arm after having rotator cuff surgery — both said the reps were divided evenly as the first of 15 practices went without a hitch.

“Even reps — I think we are starting that way,” Grimes said. “Whether it will maintain that throughout spring or not, would be like any other position where there is competition. It could change.”

Asked to describe that competition, Grimes said: “Healthy, and open.”

Asked whether the starting QB job is up for grabs, Sitake concurred: “Yeah, every job is. No one is safe. That’s how it works.”

How does that resonate with Wilson, who won the job last fall and started every game in which he was healthy? If the returning starter is upset with that development, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.

“Yeah, I mean, that is always how spring ball is,” Wilson said. “Spring ball is an opportunity to see what everyone has got. Spring ball was huge for me when I first got here as a freshman because I was able to split reps with some of the guys. So it is the exact same thing this year as it was last year.

“Every one is given reps across the board and it is pretty much a competition all the way around, every single position,” Wilson continued. “We have got tons of guys who are switching from offense to defense. Every day there’s competition at every position.”

In addition to all that work on his diet and in the weight room, Wilson said he would like to improve his footwork, his pocket presence, and see the entire offense perform better in the red zone.

His expectations are to “just take the offense to another level, be a better leader, someone that can rally the troops, someone who can get us ready for battle. That’s one of the biggest steps I can take. And obviously as a quarterback, just helping us win more games. That’s the biggest focus. We just have to do better overall.”

Having missed spring ball and most of the offseason last year after January shoulder surgery, Wilson said he can already see where the extra time with his receivers and running backs is paying off.

“A lot of those things are going to click,” he said. “The puzzle pieces are coming together.”

Hall’s spring will be busy, like last year, because he’s also playing baseball; he hit a grand slam in Friday’s win over New Mexico and said he will split time between both sports with the blessing of Sitake and baseball coach Mike Littlewood.

As for the starting quarterback competition, Hall echoed Wilson’s sentiments. He welcomes it.

“I just take it as a good competition,” Hall said. “At the start of the season, no matter where you are on the depth chart, it is a competition. I see it as an opportunity to go out and get better, and push each other, and put our best out there.”

Hall sustained two concussions in as many games last fall, but said he’s never thought about giving up football.

“It hasn’t crossed my mind,” he said, pronouncing himself 100 percent recovered. “Hopefully I never have to worry about that again.”

Romney said he is 95 percent recovered from turf toe that plagued him the final few weeks of the 2019 season. He only recently started running again, but believes he will be 100 percent in the next couple of days.

He said it “definitely” made him happy when he heard the quarterback competition was open, after having started in two wins last year when Wilson was out with a fractured thumb and Hall was concussed.

“It is a great opportunity for me,” Romney said. “You go into every day ready to compete. Nothing is handed to you on this team and I am just coming in every day with that mentality to try to win the job.”

Romney was a bit coy when asked if he might transfer if it becomes apparent he won’t get a chance to play a lot at BYU, being the same year as Hall and a year behind Wilson.

“Right now we are just going to see how spring ball goes,” he said.

Overall, Sitake was pleased with how the first day went, saying coaches have a lot of experience to work with in all three phases of the game. He said the goal in camp is to foster competition and identify which players can help the team in the fall.

“Obviously the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, and there are some things during the season that didn’t go how we wanted them to go. Some goals were not accomplished,” Sitake said. “We have the opportunity now to make things better and there is a huge sense of urgency from our whole team. Not just the coaching staff, but the players on the team. Guys want to do things and perform a lot better this fall. It started back in January and December.”

Wilson is exhibit A in that regard.