Provo • Regardless of how BYU’s starting quarterback competition turns out, freshman Zach Wilson has already proven through spring camp and eight or so preseason training camp practices to be an outstanding find for the coaching staff.
Wilson, who turns 19 this month, “has been everything we thought he would be when we recruited him,” quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said last week.
Teammates say it is evident that Wilson was raised to be a quarterback, from his mastery of fundamentals to his poise in the pocket, rocket arm and nifty footwork. He even handles the media like a seasoned veteran.
“He’s an impressive kid,” said Beau Hoge, who was in the quarterback derby last spring but has moved to running back. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him if he is the quarterback who leads this team.”
Reporters have only been able to watch bits and pieces of practices — fewer than 90 combined minutes to this point — but Wilson’s passing accuracy and mobility have stood out. Saturday’s scrimmage, which Roderick said was going to be “huge” for the four quarterbacks in the race — Wilson, Tanner Mangum, Joe Critchlow and Jaren Hall — was closed to the media and general public.
Wilson agreed with Roderick’s assessment that the scrimmage was going to be important in helping coaches sort out the logjam, but said he was not “freaking out” about it.
“I would say it is just like every day. I kinda approach them all the same,” said the former Corner Canyon High star. “Every day I need to come out and play the best I can. I take everything seriously. The competition is pretty intense."
Roderick said the quarterbacks would be off limits to tackling, a decision that took away one of Wilson’s strengths, his running ability, But the freshman wasn’t concerned.
“I don’t mind,” he said. “I like going live. I think it is a good look and makes it more realistic, especially in the pocket. But you don’t want any freak injuries before the season, at the same time. I’m confident the coaches will make the smart decision on that.”
Wilson, who graduated early so he could participate in spring ball — “best decision I have ever made,” he said — gets dozens of texts a day from his friends and supporters in Draper and even his new teammates wondering how the quarterback battle is coming along.
He said he is trying to take all the attention in stride.
“There is a lot to lose sleep about,” he said. “Being young, and having to make big-boy decisions, is stressful. But at the same time, I just try and tell myself, ‘You are young. Just go out and play how you know how to play and you will get things done.’”
Wilson isn’t cocky, but he doesn’t lack confidence, either. He trusts and appreciates the training he has received growing up, from his father, to his coaches at Corner Canyon, to former BYU quarterback John Beck over the summer, and Roderick.
“To be honest, I thought [adjusting to college football] would be different,” Wilson said. “I thought it would be more [difficult] than it is. That’s because I just approach it like it is a football game and you don’t think about anyone around you.”
Insiders who have watched most or all of the practices say the decision on who starts Sept. 1 at Arizona may come down to whether the coaches have the courage to roll out a true freshman, or whether they play it safe and go with Mangum or Critchlow, who had a good week after not getting reps Monday in the final team session of practice.
What’s notable is that Wilson has given them a lot to think about with his stellar start to preseason, even if they might not announce a starter until game day.
“We are more concerned right now with just finding out who will start that first game,” Roderick said. “We will decide later if we are going to announce it or just roll him out there on game day. But we want to make the decision as soon as it is apparent who it is.”
More on BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson
* His father, Mike Wilson, played football at the University of Utah
* Passed for 2,986 yards and 24 touchdowns and also ran for 752 yards and eight TDs as a senior at Draper’s Corner Canyon High
• Graduated from high school last December and participated in spring camp