Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah quarterback Jon Hays walks off the field after the overtime loss against Utah State in Logan on Sept. 7, 2012.
Kragthorpe: BYU, Utah QBs share unlikely stories
First Published Sep 12 2012 10:23 am • Last Updated Dec 25 2012 11:31 pm

According to the original script, Jordan Wynn this week would have become the first quarterback ever to start four Utah-BYU games, while Jake Heaps made his third straight start in the series.

Instead, either BYU’s Riley Nelson or Utah’s Jon Hays will further develop his own success story — thanks to Will Davis.

Career statistics for BYU's Riley Nelson and Utah's Jon Hays
Nelson09-12186317.5862,550259 9-3
* - as starter

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Davis, a Utah State cornerback, is partly responsible for ending Heaps’ tenure at BYU and causing Wynn to retire from football.

Allowing for the possibility that freshman Travis Wilson (already ticketed to play a specialty role) will overtake Hays in practice this week, the latest edition of Utah vs. BYU should feature two quarterbacks who took long, circuitous routes to this point, playing in a game that may certify one of them as a campus legend.

That’s a long way from the BYU punt coverage team, Nelson’s initial assignment in 2011, or Nebraska-Omaha, Hays’ previous school, which dropped its Division II football program and made him available to Utah.

They’re a lot alike — overachievers, gritty competitors, guys whose teammates respond well to them and whose presence in this position once seemed unlikely, if not unimaginable.

Nelson starred for Logan High School in the 2005 Class 3A championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. It’s taken him seven years to get back there.

"I’ve been exposed to a lot of different stadiums, a lot of different environments — none quite like this," Nelson said. "But I’m hoping that the body of work, the culmination of those seven years, make it so that walking out on the field on Saturday, I can be nice and poised and calm."

Nelson’s road began at Utah State, where he was scheduled to redshirt in 2006, before a 48-0 loss to Utah and other struggles led USU coaches to activate him. After a two-year LDS Church mission, he transferred to BYU. Nelson backed up Max Hall in ’09, started three games before injuring his shoulder the following season, then was playing behind Heaps last September when he mopped up against Utah in Provo. His fumble was returned 57 yards for the Utes’ last touchdown in a 54-10 victory.

Two weeks later, Nelson earned the starting job with his second-half rally against Utah State, topped by a miraculous touchdown pass. Davis deflected a ball that went over his head and into the arms of BYU’s Marcus Mathews. In December, Heaps transferred to Kansas.

story continues below
story continues below

Hays threw one incompletion against BYU last year, when Wynn was temporarily sidelined in the second quarter. By halftime of Utah’s next game, Wynn was lost for the season. Hays took over and, after some struggles, led Utah to six victories, including a dramatic Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech.

Even so, Hays was expected to resume his original role this season, with Wynn presumably healthy. Hays was an afterthought during spring practice, while Wynn received extra work and so did Wilson and freshman Chase Hansen (who later had shoulder surgery in August).

The coaches promised Hays he could compete in preseason practice, and he responded. So when Davis’ hit on a blitz knocked Wynn out of the game Friday, Hays was ready. His TD pass tied the game, before Davis’ coverage forced an incompletion on Hays’ final attempt in overtime.

Hays describes himself as "miles" ahead of last season, when he initially was forced into action. Wynn said Hays is "vastly better, throwing the football and just handling the offense."

What would a victory Saturday mean to Nelson or Hays?

Nelson immediately would rise from journeyman status to a member of BYU’s quarterbacking elite. Since the BYU passing era began in 1972, of the 18 quarterbacks who started 10-plus games, four never beat Utah: John Walsh, Matt Berry, Bret Engemann and Heaps. Kevin Feterik is the only starter who lost to the Utes as a senior.

Hays has as much to gain. He could give his team hope in a season that’s trending toward disastrous, with the Utes’ next four games including trips to Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State, mixed in with a visit from No. 2 USC.

Yes, that sets up Jon Hays vs. Matt Barkley, USC’s Heisman Trophy front-runner. That’s even weirder than Jon Hays vs. Riley Nelson — a matchup created by Will Davis, who’s becoming one of the most influential people in Utah sports.


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.