A ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ Zach Wilson returns to BYU workouts eager to reclaim his starting quarterback position
Junior who is in a quarterback derby with Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney has improved a lot since uneven performance in Hawaii Bowl, says former BYU QB John Beck, his coach at a QB camp in California
PROVO — Wearing a royal blue mask, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson showed up for voluntary workouts at the school’s football practice facility earlier this month as BYU began welcoming back athletes in selected sports.
Forgive his teammates for not recognizing him, masked or otherwise.
Wilson, listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds on BYU’s spring camp roster, is heavier, stronger and more chiseled than ever before. He said he spent a lot of time during the coronavirus pandemic working on his strength, athleticism and conditioning.
The new-look Wilson can now easily dunk a basketball with two hands, a video that surfaced May 11 showed.
“Yeah, my athleticism has definitely improved,” Wilson told the Deseret News last week. “In high school, I could barely dunk — just a little bit. I am now to the point where I can windmill dunk and dunk without even taking a step, just standing under the hoop.”
Suffice it to say, the rising junior hasn’t wasted the last few months lounging around and doing the bare minimums to satisfy his coaches in Zoom meetings. He’s completely healthy for the first offseason since arriving at BYU in 2018, and he’s determined to win back the starting quarterback job that coaches have said is wide open after backups Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney played well when they got the chance last fall.
“My vertical (jumping ability) and my speed have improved,” he said. “I think it is just that maturity and aging process and development that has enabled me to get bigger, faster and stronger.”
In April and early May, Wilson spent three weeks getting tutored by former BYU quarterback John Beck and others at the 3DQB training camp for quarterbacks in Huntington Beach, California. Since then, he returns almost every weekend for more instruction, often making the 650-mile drive down on Friday and returning on Sunday to save money.
“Yeah, my athleticism has definitely improved. In high school, I could barely dunk — just a little bit. I am now to the point where I can windmill dunk and dunk without even taking a step, just standing under the hoop.” — Zach Wilson
“Zach is a better quarterback today than he was last year at this time, for sure,” Beck said. “I know Zach is in a much better position for himself because, one, he is not having to come off an injury or surgery; two, he has put in a lot of hard work; and three, he has more experience under his belt.”
That said, Beck is quick to point out that he’s seen many a quarterback improve immensely, but fail to see that hard work pay off in terms of more wins the following season.
“Expectations are a tricky thing,” Beck said. “So here is what I will say: Zach’s arm right now is the strongest I have seen it. Zach’s ability to throw from some of the positions we have put him in over these last couple of months has improved a lot. Zach’s ability to make some of the hard throws easier, and make them more consistently, is a lot better.”
Wilson said while the pandemic took away nearly half of BYU’s spring practices, its spring game and the opportunity to build chemistry with teammates, it might have been a blessing in disguise for his own development. He’s also worked a lot with Dave Stroshine of STROperformance in Pleasant Grove and is focused on developing skills that have allowed NFL quarterbacks such as Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes to succeed, Stroshine told the Deseret News last month.
“Personally, I feel a lot better physically than I ever have,” Wilson said.
At 3DQB, he’s been able to rub shoulders with and learn from NFL QBs such as the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky, the Raiders’ Marcus Mariota and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott. The facility has also worked with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford and others.
Zach Wilson’s first two seasons at BYU
2018 — Completed 120 of 182 passes (66%) for 1,578 yards, 12 touchdowns, with three interceptions
2019 — Completed 199 of 319 passes (62%) for 2,382 yards, 11 touchdowns, with nine interceptions
“It is fun to go out there and see them all,” Beck said. “I threw with Drew Brees a couple months last year. They do a lot of pro day guys in college as well. Justin Herbert (Oregon), Jordan Love (Utah State) and Jacob Eason (Washington) were out there training for this year’s draft.”
Beck said his group trains nearly 20 NFL quarterbacks a year, including 10 to 12 starters, as well as college and high school quarterbacks.
“Zach will be in his third year in the offense, which will be huge,” Beck said. “I anticipate some good things will happen, because it is also the third year for (Jeff) Grimes and the third year for Aaron Roderick, who has done a great job with Zach.”
Wilson, who patterns his game after Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Brees, said this is the best he has ever thrown in his life. He said he hasn’t let up on his film work, which was a staple in the spring and summer of 2019 when he couldn’t throw due to shoulder surgery in January 2019.
“I’m just doing things that other people aren’t doing,” he said. “I feel like that’s a huge part of it — trying to find those things that separate me from everybody else.”
The starting quarterback competition
Wilson started nine games in 2019 and threw for 2,382 yards and 11 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. He’s thrown for 3,690 yards and rushed for 388 during his career.
Yet, there’s still a starting quarterback derby in Provo. He said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Yeah, no matter what the situation is, everything is a competition, no matter what,” he said. “Coming into my freshman year, no one expected me to compete for a starting job. But everything happens for a reason and coaches are going to want to play their best player. The cream always rises to the top so I think the biggest focus for me is don’t worry about anyone but myself.”
Wilson acknowledges his play in the Hawaii Bowl was mixed — he threw for 274 yards, but fumbled once and was intercepted twice. Hall and Romney led the Cougars to wins when he was out with a fractured thumb.
“I am in a competition with myself every day. I don’t even worry about anybody else or what they are doing. I am just trying to get my game to progress and focus on it every day and watch film and see what I can do better.” — Zach Wilson
“I am in a competition with myself every day,” Wilson said. “I don’t even worry about anybody else or what they are doing. I am just trying to get my game to progress and focus on it every day and watch film and see what I can do better.”
Beck, who was involved in several starting quarterback competitions at BYU and in the NFL, said he figured coaches would say the competition is open after “the season didn’t end the way they wanted” and the other guys performed well in relief.
“I think it is just part of the game, part of being a quarterback, part of the tradition there,” Beck said. “At the end of the day, football is about winning. And if a team is not winning, they have to say, ‘OK, let’s open it up and let’s create competition.’
Beck said Wilson has the edge in experience, but coaches can’t discount the other intangibles, such as leadership, and which guy can get his teammates to believe in him the most.
“A lot of times that open competition is to send the message to the team that coaches are not just handing it to somebody,” he said. “It is also a way to unify the team, because if you have a guy who is out there performing well all the time, it shows, and guys will say, ‘Yeah, this guy should be our starter.’”