Travis Wilson’s high school coach has a picture of his former quarterback hurdling two would-be defenders during a game. Etched in his memory too is the night Wilson, now a Utah freshman quarterback, bowled over a cornerback to get to the end zone. Wilson got the touchdown and knocked the opposing player out of the game.
So when Jaime Ortiz hears the Utes might explore the possibility of using the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Wilson in a wildcat package, Ortiz can’t think of a better way to put Wilson’s running talents to use.
“He is a guy who just won’t be denied,” Ortiz said. “There was a misconception, even in the recruiting process, that he couldn’t run because he is almost 6-7. But he does have the ability, and he has great feet for a big guy.”
The Utes are discovering just how well Wilson moves as they put him through the rigors of preseason practice. The Utes have allowed the defense to hit Wilson during live work to see how he’d handle the physicality.
Wilson, rated one of the top quarterbacks in the country by most recruiting services while prepping at San Clemente, Calif., has responded even better than the coaches had hoped. Instead of shying away, he has taken Utah’s defenders head-on. Sometimes that aggressiveness has gotten him into trouble, such as during Friday’s morning session, when he took a hard hit by cornerback Mo Lee as he leapt through the air for extra yards. But the coaches love the effort.
“You can see on tape how well he moves, but you don’t get the full appreciation for it until you see it live,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He moves much better than you would think a 6-6, 6-7 guy could move. He is nifty and he can make you miss, and he has some power when he hits you. He can move the pile forward.”
Whittingham said the Utes will probably put Wilson off limits to the defense soon, noting the coaches have seen what they needed to see out of him in live work.
Now comes the task of figuring out how to use his skills.
Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn isn’t known as one of the speediest guys on the roster, and his history of injuries would make anyone hesitate to use him in many running options.
Backup quarterback Jon Hays has been more consistent than Wilson in the throw game but doesn’t bring the same running threat Wilson possesses.
So would the Utes use Wilson this year rather than redshirt him just for the sake of having a running threat? Whittingham sure seems to like the idea.
“A wildcat package is a very realistic possibility,” he said.
The Utes have had a successful history of using players in such a manner. Current offensive coordinator Brian Johnson filled a similar role as a freshman when he backed up Alex Smith and played in 10 games.
Other players, including former quarterback Corbin Louks, running back Matt Asiata and former quarterback Griff Robles have also been utilized in such a fashion.
While some quarterbacks might hesitate at the thought of being exposed to Pac-12 defenses, Wilson savors the thought.
“I feel like I’m a good runner, and it’s one of my threats,” he said. “I worked on it a lot in high school because quarterbacks have to scramble around and make plays on the fly, so it has been a big part of my whole quarterback career.”
Wilson spoke enthusiastically despite having fresh blood on his forehead from the hit he took from Lee. He likes to run, but still needs to learn how to slide, Whittingham said.
“He is tough and competitive and physical, which are a lot of the qualities you like to see in a quarterback,” he said.
Qualities that the Utes might just see on the field this year.
Travis Wilson file
• 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. Freshman.
• San Clemente, Calif.
• Graduated from high school early and enrolled at Utah
• Set school records for career passing yards (4,320) and total offense (5,244)
• Had 36 passing touchdowns and 13 career rushing touchdowns
• His senior year he passed for 2,289 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 467 yards and nine touchdowns