BYU QB battle over: Zach Wilson earns starting role

After months of competition dating back to March between Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney, the quarterback battle has been resolved. A week before the Cougars open the 2020 season at Navy, the BYU depth chart revealed Wilson as the season starter.

Wilson took over as starting quarterback midway through his freshman season in 2018. He earned the role at the start of the 2019 season, but was sidelined in the middle of the season due to injury. Hall and Romney filled in while Wilson recovered from surgery due to a fractured right (throwing) thumb.

“It just leaves it with no doubt,” Wilson said. “I think it shows your teammates, your coaches that you’re willing to work for it. That’s how every spot in football should be — you have to earn the right to play and earn the right to play well. Competition just makes everyone better, so I think that’s kind of what we got out of this whole process was the coaches want to play the best players that they can. And competition always brings out the best players and everybody.”

Coaches praised the junior as having shown immense progress through fall camp, with offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes saying on the “Coordinators’ Corner” show Monday morning that Wilson earned the job solely based on his performance the last month.

Wilson has played a career total of 18 games for a total of 3,960 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on 64% passing. Yet, having more experience than Hall and Romney wasn’t a factor in the decision.

“What he did in fall camp earned him the job and we really didn’t have to say, we’re looking at the entirety of his career, or the larger sample size that’s there for him because he earned it based off what he did in fall camp,” Grimes said.

Last year, Wilson used the offseason to have surgery on his right shoulder and rehab it. This time around, having already recovered from his hand injury during the 2019 season, Wilson was able to take advantage of the offseason — even through a pandemic.

Besides working on building up arm strength, throughout fall camp Wilson had been actively working on eliminating mistakes, coaches said.

Being able to fully focus on simply getting better for the upcoming season, rather than on his health, coach Kalani Sitake believes, has been one of the main reasons Wilson was able to progress so much over the offseason.

It’s also helped that this is Wilson’s third fall camp with the Cougars.

“Instead of establishing himself as a player, now he’s trying to compete, which he’s going to have to do every time — compete and try to solidify his spot,” Sitake said. “But in the midst of doing that, he was able to work on his relationship, his timing, right now, some things that he wanted to make his strengths as a quarterback, and it showed. Every position is going to have to compete and play the best guys and he definitely earned it.”

After Wilson, Hall and Romney all showed they were capable starters last year, talk of who would earn the spot this fall essentially started immediately after the Cougars ended the 2019 season at the Hawaii Bowl.

However, Wilson said he paid no mind to any of the talk — he was going to go into the offseason the same. Even if he would have been named the starting quarterback the day after the 2019 season ended, he still planned on going into fall camp the same as he did.

“Every offseason is an opportunity to take it to the next level and achieve new goals and maybe striving to be the No. 1 on the team, but now it’s striving to be one of the best in the country, or whatever it is,” Wilson said. “The offseason preparation was going to be the same no matter what, so I wanted to give everything I could to help the team win this next year.”