Everyone from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham to co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson has commented on how much stronger quarterback Travis Wilson’s arm is.
Utah fans can only hope the rest of his body is strong as well.
After several seasons of a quarterback carousel fueled by injuries to Jordan Wynn, the Utes believe they have the quarterback who can not only lead them on the field, but also stay on it.
Wilson, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound sophomore out of San Clemente, Calif., became Utah’s starting quarterback in 2012 when Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in the second game of the season.
Wilson finished the season 115-for-179 for 1,163 yards and six touchdowns and six interceptions — and a whole lot of learning on the fly.
Looking back on the season, even he shakes his newly cropped hair at how much of a learning curve he endured.
“It was a shock,” he said. “When the season was over, I looked back on it and now it’s crazy. But now I am so thankful to have been through one season because I was able to learn a lot from last year and can build off it this year.”
Wilson’s start was similar to Wynn’s, save for the fact that he wasn’t able to get the Utes to a bowl game like Wynn did as a rookie in 2009.
Named the MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl, Wynn appeared poised to have a good career as Utah’s quarterback. But his 6-2, 208-pound frame just couldn’t hold up to the rigors of Division I football as injuries derailed his seasons and ultimately his career.
“He worked his tail off for us in the weight room and on the field,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of Wynn. “But he was built slight genetically and proved not to be durable for us.”
The Utes are doing their best to ensure Wilson has a different career path. His first directive was to add weight to his frame in the offseason.
He has done that, resulting in more bulk and a stronger arm. The other request? Don’t do anything stupid, such as trying to leap defenders like he has been known to do in the past.
Playing leapfrog over slow-moving defensive linemen in high school might have been fine, but Wilson has learned the stakes are too high for such antics in the Pac-12.
“I’ve learned college guys are bigger and faster and I have to be smart with what I am doing and protect myself,” he said. “I don’t want to put myself in any scary situations that would take myself out.”
Of course, the Utes don’t want him playing too conservatively either. Wilson said that won’t be a problem. He is eager to show he isn’t just another pretty-boy quarterback out of California who lists golf as his second favorite sport, but a true leader who can win games for the Utes despite a rugged Pac-12 schedule.
Already his work in the weight room is adding to the respect he earned on the field last year, said teammates, who hope more than anyone Utah’s quarterbacks position settles down.
“He has proven to us he can be a leader,” tight end Jake Murphy said. “He was really vocal last year and he learned a lot, but he is still working on everything too like his route structures. It’s definitely important to keep a continuous feel for the offense with one quarterback, and it would be good to form a bond with him and get in the same rhythm.”
The Utes are tweaking their offense this year, but both Wilson and Erickson said it is requiring little adjustment from him.
Erickson liked Wilson’s style on tape and has grown even more fond of it now that he is with the Utes.
“His arm is stronger than people think, and he makes plays,” he said. “The intangible thing a quarterback needs is to be able to make a play when things break down and he has done that. If you don’t turn it over, you have a chance to win every game, and he doesn’t make many mental mistakes.”
Wilson has a strong arm and a strong mind. Utah fans, cross your fingers that he has a strong body, too.
Utah QB depth chart
Travis Wilson, 6-6, 240, So. • Averaged 107.5 yards a game passing as a freshman, has gained strength in the offseason.
Adam Schulz 6-1, 205, So. • Walk-on has impressed coaches with his solid arm and the way he has picked up the new offense.
Brandon Cox 6-2, 200, Fr. • Early enrollee who played in just two games as a senior in high school after breaking his foot.
Conner Manning 6-1, 205, Fr. • 2013 signee broke Matt Barkley’s Orange County single-season passing yards record as a junior, completing 327 of 527 passes for 4,219 yards, 41 TDs and 8 INTs.
Micah Thomas 6-0, 178, Fr. • Houston product a solid runner and passer, will join team in the fall.