PROVO — Ever since he committed to play football for BYU in January 2016 as a gangly, 175-pound senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Fontana, California, Chris Wilcox has pictured in his mind what his graduation day would look like in Provo.

“I was looking forward to walking, and having my family out there to watch me,” Wilcox said. “Having put in so much hard work, I wanted my younger brothers to see the fruits of that, celebrate with me and know it could be done.”

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted that plan — no commencement exercises were held at BYU or any other school around the country last week — but it didn’t stop Wilcox from becoming the first member of his father’s side of the family from getting a college degree.

Wilcox is the oldest of Leticia and Christopher Wilcox’s three sons.

“I am the first Wilcox to graduate from college, and that means a lot to me,” Chris Wilcox said. “On my mom’s side, we have had a few (graduate), but nothing that compares to getting a degree from a school that has the status of Brigham Young University. So yeah, this is definitely a huge accomplishment for me and my family, and I am proud of it.”

“When I got offered, I didn’t know anything about the history of the school and how it is a Mormon school with an honor code and all that stuff. But I didn’t have a problem with it or anything. I was cool with it. I just knew it offered a good education and there was good football there. I knew I would be fine. I knew I could handle that.” — BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox, who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The cornerback graduated with a degree in exercise and wellness, although he still has a year of football eligibility remaining because he redshirted in 2019 due to a string of lingering injuries. Of the 18 BYU football players graduating this year (or in December, in the cases of Austin Lee, Trajan Pili and Talon Shumway), five still have eligibility remaining.

Transferring quarterback Joe Critchlow and Wilcox’s fellow defenders Kavika Fonua, Uriah Leiataua and Troy Warner are the others.

“Ask anyone — getting a degree from a school like BYU isn’t easy,” said Wilcox, who hopes to go into athletic training, nutrition or a similar field when his football-playing days are over.

“Playing sports my whole life, I feel like I want to help others train and motivate them to do what they want physically and get their body right to do it,” he said.

Although his father didn’t earn a college degree, education has always been important to him, Wilcox said.

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“My dad always emphasized to me that I am the first born, and just knowing that, I have to lead the way and be the big brother and show them what road to be on and just make sure we all go to college,” he said.

Amazingly, a little more than four years ago, Chris Wilcox had never heard of BYU. He talked to fellow Fontana product Jamaal Williams, the BYU running back legend who prepped at nearby Summit High, then visited the campus, although he is not a member of the faith that owns and operates BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“When I got offered, I didn’t know anything about the history of the school and how it is a Mormon school with an honor code and all that stuff,” he said. “But I didn’t have a problem with it or anything. I was cool with it. I just knew it offered a good education and there was good football there. I knew I would be fine. I knew I could handle that.”

And now?

“I haven’t had any problems here,” he said. “I have loved the experience here.”

Well, except for the injuries.

Wilcox started in two games as a freshman, five as a sophomore and his first nine as a junior before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury against Boise State in 2018. He played in just one game last year, against Idaho State, then shut it down for good and called 2019 his redshirt year.

In 32 games, he’s made 70 tackles and has seven pass breakups. He is still waiting for that elusive first interception.

He’s also waiting for news that the college football season will start on time, like most everyone else, but still preparing as if it will. He went home for a month or so when the campus was shut down and classes were put online; now he’s back, and connecting with a few teammates to work out on his own.

“You have to treat everything like the season is going to happen so you aren’t caught off-guard,” he said. “We still have to put in the work, put in the time. We will be ready regardless of what happens. We all plan to stay in shape, stay ready.”

Wilcox said he’s 100% physically now, and now that he has a degree in hand, his sights are set on having a breakout senior season and getting to the NFL.

Linebackers coach Ed Lamb said in November that Wilcox has the size and tools necessary to play at the next level.

“He will be an NFL player (some day),” Lamb said. “He will be a top corner for us next year. He’s a guy we feel like we can match up against the tallest, fastest receivers in America. Chris has come a long way. When he was first here as a freshman we had to force feed him reps. And he took his lumps, as great corners do.”

Wilcox said it is all part of the plan, a plan hatched in 2016 when his only other football offers were from Southern Utah and UC Davis.

“I feel like the main concern with recruits is it isn’t the typical party scene here — it isn’t a party school at all,” he said. “But I know coming here was going to keep my mind set on where I was trying to go, which is the NFL. I knew the less distractions I had, the better chance I had of being able to perform to my best. I knew it was the right school for me the first time I visited.”

Now he has a college degree to prove it.

BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox’s injury plagued career

2016 — Played in 10 games as a true freshman, starting in two

2017 — Played in all 12 games, starting in five, with 32 tackles and five pass breakups

2018 — Started first nine games before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury against Boise State

2019 — Played in just one game, against Idaho State, and is counting it as his redshirt shirt