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Utah football: Former Utes QB Travis Wilson signs with L.A. Rams — as a tight end

First Published      Last Updated Mar 02 2017 02:56 pm


The man who has made the most starts as Utah football’s quarterback is getting a fresh start in the NFL.

Only it isn’t at quarterback.

Travis Wilson, 23, signed a contract on Tuesday with the L.A. Rams — and the former Utes passer hopes to find a niche as a 6-foot-7 tight end. He already looks different: He’s gained 20 pounds in the past two months under the guidance of pro training and a nutritionist, and after a Monday workout, the Rams thought enough of him to give him a shot to make the squad this fall.

He just had to make the leap to a new position.




"I’ve always heard it from other people, and I heard it a little from scouts last year, too," Wilson said in an interview with The Tribune. "I definitely have the framework for it. I can use my height and my jumping ability to its fullest potential. I believe in the long run, it will be better for me."

In his Utah career, Wilson threw for 7,401 yards and 54 touchdowns. In each of his last three years, he ran for more than 300 yards and at least five touchdowns on the ground. His final two seasons, he led Utah to at least nine wins in each and back-to-back Las Vegas Bowl wins.

When it came to becoming a passer at the next level, Wilson struck out: He attended a Cincinnati Bengals minicamp but didn’t progress any further, then signed with the developing National Gridiron League in Australia that didn’t end up materializing.

So Wilson spent much of the last year working at Toes on the Nose, a surf shop in Laguna Beach, Calif. He hadn’t given up on making it in pro football, however: He got in touch with Jordan Palmer, a one-time NFL QB and younger brother of Carson Palmer who had coached Wilson in Elite 11 back when he was in high school.

Now a quarterbacks coach, Palmer ran a two-part workout — one where Wilson threw the passes, and one where Wilson caught them. Then they talked about the pros and cons, deciding that Wilson might be best served bulking up to give it a shot at tight end.

"He felt good whichever road I wanted to go down," Wilson said. "But to make it to the league — I made my decision off of that."

Wilson began training at EXOS in Southern California, working on lifting, running routes and eating nearly non-stop (and bankrolled by his parents). He caught passes from former college quarterbacks on the road he was last year, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and UCLA’s Mike Fafaul among them.

"They’re all super supportive," Wilson said. "I mean, I don’t think any of them are opposed to throwing to a 6-7 tight end. They’re all super stoked for me and they saw how much hard work I put in."

So did the Rams.

Palmer helped arrange a workout with the recently relocated franchise two months since Wilson decided to switch positions. It worked well enough that the team offered him a contract in short order.

It’s worth noting that the 23-year-old suffered a serious head injury in college that was once thought to be career-ending. He was later cleared and went on to play two more years at quarterback with the Utes.

Even though tight end will certainly put him in the path for more contact, Wilson said he’s been screened multiple times and his injury history shouldn’t be an issue.

"I’m totally cleared from that," he said. "I have all the papers from the doctors. It’s honestly not even something I think about."

Wilson believes his mobility, size and competitiveness will help him compete for a roster spot come training camp. He’s moved up in weight from 230 pounds to 250, but he still wants to hit the 260 mark, he said.

The opportunity is especially convenient, he said, because he’s only a two-hour drive from where he lives now, and he’ll be looking for a chance to play home games in front of his family and friends in his home state.

The contract, he knows, guarantees very little. He’s already changed his position, his body and how at least one NFL team sees him. But he hopes it’s just a mile marker on a much longer journey.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "I’m constantly trying to get better. I still need to make the team, still need to prove that I can play in this league."

Definitely.

kgoon@sltrib.com
Twitter: @kylegoon

 

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