Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn deleted his Twitter account and avoids Facebook, but he still hears talk from fans who are excited about the potential of Travis Wilson, the freshman quarterback who looked so good in camp that Wynn’s starting role appeared in jeopardy.
Wilson seems to have it all: the talent, the smarts, the cool California attitude.
Wynn acknowledges the chatter and hype building around Wilson with a smug smile.
He was that guy too, once.
He was the backup, the young gun with the great arm and the future of Utah football in his hands, once.
Remember his freshman year when he relieved Terrance Cain and rallied the Utes from a 10-3 deficit to beat Wyoming? A week later he had the best starting debut of any Utah freshman quarterback, passing for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-14 win over New Mexico.
The good times kept coming for the California boy who rarely seemed rattled in pressure situations. He finished with a 3-2 record as a starter and lived out a dream by earning the MVP award in guiding the Utes to a win over Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl, just a few miles away from his childhood home in Oceanside, Calif.
As he stepped onto the podium that night, it seemed Wynn’s ascent with the Utes had just begun. Funny how a few hits, a couple of shoulder surgeries and a growing contingent of doubters can change things.
Now, heading into his fourth season with the Utes, Wynn’s career has evolved into a tale of redemption.
He wants to win for his grandmother, who died of cancer last May. He wants to win for the team because that is what football players do. He wants to win for himself, too, to prove that he still has the arm, that he still has the magic mojo and that, as much as some fans wish, it isn’t time yet for Wilson to take the field as the next big thing.
For a guy who boasts a 13-6 record as a starter and whose name can already found in Utah’s record book with two years left to play, Wynn heads into the 2012 season feeling like his back is to the wall.
“I’ve got my motivations,” he said. “A lot of them are my own, things I don’t really want in public but are definitely going to be in the back of my mind when I walk out onto the field. Some are positive ones, too: My grandma, I think about her every day, and I try not to take anything for granted.”
At the top of the list of things he is appreciative for is his health. His well-publicized three shoulder injuries have hampered his career so much that he was able to get an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA because he missed so many games, including the last 91/2 games of the 2011 season.
Adding to the pain of last year’s injury was the timing. He was finally feeling a bit like his old self, that spry, confident freshman who won the Poinsettia Bowl when out he went down again in the first half of the Washington game, this time with an injury to his left shoulder.
The numerous injuries have led to questions about Wynn’s durability, his ability to lead the Utes and even his character. Not kicking a guy who is down evidently doesn’t translate to the entire Ute fan base. Wynn finally gave up his social media avenues to avoid hearing the criticism this year. He had enough doubts in his own mind; he didn’t need to hear them elsewhere.
Fans’ barbs can be as sharp and as loud as their praise, he has learned.
“It’s all part of the deal,” he said. “You just keep your head up and get through it.”
That fans are critical is nothing new. Even Brian Johnson, Utah’s winningest quarterback, was booed at times during the undefeated 2008 season.
Johnson has been there to give his quarterback advice, tips that helped him survive through some of the rough spots of his final year.
“At the end of the day it’s what you do on the field that matters and doing what you can to help the team win,” Johnson said. “Jordan works hard, he is a student of the game, and he knows what to do. Actions speak for themselves.”
Wynn did look like his old self in camp, until a three-day break to rest a sore shoulder flared up old questions about his ability to last the season.
Once again, talk shows, columns and fans ripped apart and dissected Wynn as a quarterback. Can he take a hit? Can he last a game? How good is Travis Wilson? Wynn said such questioning didn’t bother him anymore, but then, he’s relieved he doesn’t tap into it any longer. And he talks to his father, his biggest confidant, a lot.
“He sees what is going on and knows better than anyone what is going on with me,” Wynn said. “It’s good for me to have him because I can say whatever I need to say to him.”
Wynn’s father, Robert Wynn, declined to be interviewed for this story.
In line with his father, Wynn doesn’t give the public much of what is on his mind. He is a different kind of quarterback than the Utes have had in recent years. He isn’t the fire-starter Alex Smith was, or the gregarious, lead-the-team-into-a-firestorm kind Johnson was.
Perhaps Wynn’s slightly aloof attitude is one of the reasons fans have been slower to rally behind him as they have other players. Wynn said a lack of support doesn’t bother him, but his good friend on the team, receiver DeVonte Christopher, knows that it gets under his skin.
“It’s definitely hard,” Christopher said. “Whenever we go some place, people are asking him, ‘Are you going to stay healthy this year?’ and talking. It sucks to hear that outside. They don’t know what happens on this field, in the locker room or what your teammates feel about you, I tell him. He knows every receiver, lineman, running back who is a decent player has confidence in him, regardless of what someone might post on Twitter or Facebook or anything like that.”
But do the Utes really have confidence in Wynn?
When the team voted for its 2012 captains, receiver Luke Matthews and John White were voted the offensive captains. Odd, to have a guy who has worked so hard to return from injury, who has three years of experience and is the quarterback be passed over for captain duties.
Neither Christopher nor White could offer much of an explanation for the reasoning.
“I don’t know,” Christopher said. “You only get a few so it’s hard, but people on this team respect him.”
Wynn shrugged off any would-be slight.
“I didn’t play last year,” he said. “John White and Luke Matthews are great guys, and I’m still going to come out hard and lead. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to say anything. I’ll still be who I am, I just don’t have a ‘C’ on my jersey this year.”
Perhaps he should think about stitching an “M” for motivation on that jersey. For Wynn, it seems more appropriate.
Jordan Wynn, year by year
Year G Com Att Yds TD Int
2009 6 104 179 1,329 8 4
2010 10 186 299 2,334 17 10
2011 4 66 116 727 6 2