Zach Wilson, at different points, played the role of the underdog — both at Corner Canyon High School and at BYU. The Draper native’s motto through his entire football career has been “Prove them wrong.”
During the 2020 season, Wilson made headlines when he wore a headband that read “Any team, time, place” during the North Alabama game on Nov. 21. It was the junior quarterback’s response to people’s questions on BYU’s success against a much softer schedule.
As the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft, Wilson can no longer be considered an underdog. But Wilson still feels the need to prove himself — and believes the New York Jets is the team to do it with.
“If you’re the second overall pick and you don’t perform and you don’t work hard, it really means nothing down the road,” Wilson said in his introductory Jets news conference. “And so, all this is an opportunity for me to come to an amazing organization and taking the same approach that I did when no one believed in me back at BYU at a time after my sophomore year. So, it’s really that prove-them-wrong mentality of just being able to have that chip on your shoulder and making sure every day you’re working and doing everything you can, no matter how high the highs are or low the lows are.”
Right before Wilson was revealed — better yet, confirmed — to be the No. 2 pick, Jets General Manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh called the 21-year-old with the news. While on the call, Saleh told Wilson: “The biggest thing I wanted to tell you, just remember this, this organization is going to lift you — not the other way around.”
It’s no secret — the Jets are looking to make Wilson the face of the organization. Since waiving Joe Namath after the 1976 season, the Jets have struggled to find their next franchise quarterback.
The future of the Jets lies on Wilson’s shoulders. But the baby-faced quarterback is more than ready for the opportunity to become that person.
If there was any pressure from the mountain of expectations, the call from Saleh helped put Wilson at ease.
“I think that’s what’s so cool, why I like Coach Saleh so much is, he genuinely understands that football’s such a team game,” Wilson said. “There’s a 53-man roster, and it takes every single piece to make this thing around, one guy is not going to do it on his own. That’s what’s so special about this team is they’ve put together such a great plan, and I can rely on all the dudes around me. I can’t wait to get to know them and everything that they have. And I know these guys are putting energy and time every single day, so I can’t wait to get with them and that’s what’s going to make it all work.”
And the Jets did put in the work to help Wilson.
The Gang Green also picked up an offensive lineman in the first round, a wide receiver in the second round and a running back in the fourth round, as well as six defensive players later on. The Jets executive office also took advantage of undrafted free agents, signing a dozen athletes.
Four of those are offensive linemen, including former BYU guard Tristen Hoge.
Although the Jets organization is doing everything to give Wilson the best chance to succeed, the former BYU quarterback is still bound to face adversity with his new team, in his new city.
However, Wilson believes the best way to get through adversity is to find those who matter in your circle.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to rely on those that truly want the best for you — your coaches, your teammates — and just getting better,” Wilson said. “Every single time there’s bumps in the road, you’re going through adversity, that’s a learning experience. Every single thing that I’ve gone through, the lowest of lows of injuries and losing games, last-second games, whatever it is, I’ve learned so many amazing experiences from all of those. And, honestly, is part of the reason why I’m here today because of how many things I’ve learned from that. And so, it’s keeping that circle tight and being able to just rely on those that truly have your back.”
Considering Wilson’s “prove them wrong” mentality, there really wasn’t a better team to be selected by.
The Jets are trying to become the type of team that regularly makes it to the Super Bowl — not just a one-hit wonder. The Gang Green won the Super Bowl in 1969, in their lone Super Bowl appearance. Their drought is among the longest in the NFL.
Wilson is out to prove he isn’t just a one-season wonder, and can replicate the success he had on the field with the Cougars. Most importantly, he wants to prove he deserved to be the No. 2 pick.
“I feel like this is exactly what I needed,” Wilson said. “I’m so excited to be part of this team.”