Monson: A Quarterback Curse clutches Utah football
s the confetti blew up then rained down at the Superdome following Utah's defeat of Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, the biggest win in the history of Ute football, Brian Johnson looked at the spectacle from the field, took it all in and uttered a great truth: "We were the only ones who believed we could do this."
Turns out, they were the only ones who could do this. He said it like a leader. He said it like a champion. He said it like a quarterback. And with that, in that happy moment, the Utah Quarterback Curse was born.
The Utes haven't seen that trilogy since.
Look at their unfortunate subsequent QB run:
Corbin Louks, who already was in the program, moved to safety then to Nevada. Chad Mannis was made a linebacker. Terrance Cain became the starter and was benched in favor of Jordan Wynn.
Wynn had a promising start and was named the MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl his freshman year.
After that the joints and tendons in his shoulders were bent around like Silly Putty, and he had more surgeries four than consistent seasons and ultimately was forced to give up the game before his eligibility ran out. Griff Robles left the program. After Tyler Shreve signed with Utah, he punched his high school baseball coach and subsequently was suspended by Ute coaches. He transferred to Riverside [Calif.] Community College. Jon Hays arrived at Utah as an emergency acquisition after his Division II school dropped football and new offensive coordinator Norm Chow realized the Utes had nothing in reserve.
That's a mess by any measure, especially for a program that had been inserted into the Pac-12 and was facing improved and more intense competition. Some say the Curse stems from bad coaching and bad recruiting, while others say it's bad luck.
Either way, now add to it the difficult story of Travis Wilson.
The 19-year-old sophomore, who started as a freshman after Wynn no longer could go and Hays couldn't win, was the quarterback who was going to put an end to the QB Curse. He was a legitimate prospect, a kid who had the tools to make the throws that had to be made for Utah to finally conjure the offense necessary to succeed in the Pac-12.
He was young, he was big and strong, he could throw, he could move, he could learn. Kyle Whittingham said Wilson was the one who would provide the consistency at quarterback that the Utes so sorely had missed. Offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson predicted just a few weeks ago that Wilson would become a top-five Pac-12 quarterback: "He's going to be a great player. He's young. His [hand] injury set him back, but he's tough. ... He's just going through growing pains."
Erickson had no idea.
Everybody knew Wilson had struggled in recent weeks after leading the Utes to a 3-1 start. He didn't look right after looking more than right earlier this year. Something seemed wrong. And then, after suffering a concussion in the Arizona State game and undergoing tests, it was revealed that the kid had a previously existing injured intracranial artery, which provides blood to the brain, and that he was done for the season and might have to give up football. That last determination will be made in the months ahead, according to Dr. David Petron. The physician said in a statement that the condition isn't believed to be life threatening.
From a human standpoint, a young man who had been so much about football now has to ponder the possibility of life without it. Everyone knew Wilson would grow this season. Sobering circumstances now are forcing him to grow up quicker than anyone should.
His teammates are rallying around him. Voted a team captain, Wilson always has been a popular figure among them. Tight end Jake Murphy earlier this year characterized Wilson thusly: "Travis is a funny, laid-back California kid. He gets along with everybody. He's easy to be around. He's a gentle giant, except for when he's on the field. I'm married and 24. He's 19, and me and him get along as well as he does with other 19-year-olds. Everyone likes and respects Travis."
Now everyone is pulling for him.
But another dark, thick cloud covers Utah football as it loses another quarterback.
The new starter is backup Adam Schulz, a former walk-on. There are whispers that Erickson, who was hired earlier this year, wasn't happy with his options after Wilson. Connor Manning is a freshman who is/was being redshirted. Brandon Cox and Micah Thomas are freshmen. As for the future, there's Donovan Isom, a prep senior out of Louisiana, and Chase Hansen, who's currently serving an LDS Church mission.
Exactly who will emerge as the next Ute QB is a mystery as dark and thick as the cloud. Seeing that the quarterback is the most influential, important position on the field, whoever it is will have to be something special. No way Utah football pulls itself from the bottom of the Pac-12 without that. Belief is in short supply. He will have to be exceptional, extraordinary just to break a curse that has tumbled the Utes into defeat's depths after Johnson and the Utes of five years ago willed them to victory's heights.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.