Linebacker Payton Wilgar followed his father’s footsteps to BYU, but now he’s leaving his own mark

Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics | BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar awaits the snap during the Cougars' 30-27 win over USC on Sept. 14, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Provo • Payton Wilgar wanted to play at BYU for as long as he can remember — it’s always been his dream. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, former Cougar defensive back, Dana Wilgar.

Wilgar grew up with the stories his father accumulated over the four years he started for the Cougars and there was no question where he wanted to go to college. However, once his senior season at Dixie High School came to an end, Wilgar didn't really have any Division I offers. So, he took a chance.

The linebacker was handed a preferred walk-on offer to play at BYU in 2018, which he took, no questions asked. But come fall, he realized his finances were pretty tight.

Wilgar considered leaving his dream behind to transfer to a smaller school that could offer him a scholarship, but come spring 2019, as he was thinking out his decision, BYU came through and extended a scholarship offer to Wilgar.

To say he has taken advantage of the opportunity would be an understatement. Wilgar has become the team leader in interceptions. The linebacker snatched his third pick last Saturday in the Cougars’ dominating 42-14 win against in-state rival Utah State.


When • Saturday, 5:30 p.m.


The 20-year-old believes his father’s influence played a part in his recent success.

“Him, coming in as a freshman and starting and playing, it really motivated me to believe that I could do that as well,” Wilgar said. “It made me work harder. Makes me want to do extra.”

Part of that “extra” has been the 15-20 pounds of muscle Wilgar has put on since arriving at BYU and redshirting last season, linebackers coach Ed Lamb said.

Wilgar came up as a high school safety, so he arrived to BYU long and lean. Not knowing where he’d fit into the Cougars’ roster, Wilgar was hungry to prove himself and willing to do what was necessary to contribute.

Because of his mentality and work ethic, the same one that earned Wilgar a scholarship, Lamb said Wilgar “really represents the success story, and what's possible.”

The father-son connection may have also served as motivation for Wilgar to work harder, but Dana wasn’t the only Wilgar parent to play for BYU.

Wilgar's mother Misti also came to BYU to run track, but didn't end up liking it. So, instead, she transferred a year later to BYU-Hawaii to play volleyball.

“We very much believe, as a staff, that players fight harder for something they're attached to,” Lamb said. “And I think we can build attachments with anybody that we might recruit across the country, but it's a lot easier to do it with guys who grew up with BYU posters on their walls and BYU clothing. And Payton's one of those guys. When we had the chance to connect him to BYU, it was huge. I've been following him since he was a freshman in high school.”

Now, Wilgar is trying to find his way through BYU and make his own stories, like beating USC in double-overtime at LaVell Edwards Stadium — one of his favorite memories. His most recent one came last Saturday, with his pick against the Aggies.

That it came against the Cougars’ northern rivals — who his father had played against multiple times — made it that much more special. Saturday’s win in Logan helped the Cougars reclaim the Old Wagon Wheel.

With three more years of eligibility left, Wilgar wants to keep improving as a player and teammate. But for now, he wants to finish the team's turn-around performance this season.

“I’m very proud of where we’ve come,” Wilgar said. “It’s been a rollercoaster, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think we’re starting to come together and believe in everything and trust each other. The sky’s the limit. I think we can finish the season strong.”