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As the 2021 NFL draft continued to inch closer, Lisa Wilson realized she had to do something about the basement in the Wilson family’s Draper home. Her oldest son, Zach Wilson, was expected to have a historic night in Cleveland, and the family was planning a celebration at home after they got back to Utah.
That’s when it hit the mother of six that she couldn’t have multiple people over when her basement still featured Utah more heavily than BYU.
Although the celebration was centered around Zach, the former quarterback star for the Cougars, her third son had also recently committed to BYU and her fourth and youngest son received an offer from BYU on Tuesday.
The basement was still focused on the family’s past and needed to catch up to the present, and prepare for the future.
While there’s still a corner to honor Mike Wilson’s time on the Utes team in the mid 1990s — which consists of his three framed bowl jerseys, team photos and a row of red seats from the old Rice Stadium — BYU is now the dominating theme of the family’s hangout space.
The red brick wall was painted a dark blue, there are two mannequins with Zach’s uniforms, an abstract painting using blue and white paint of all six children doing each of their passions and more.
Just like the basement was, seemingly, transformed overnight, the Wilson family had a similarly timed change of allegiance — sorta.
“It was kind of emotional a little bit — it was a little weird,” Lisa Wilson said. “Knowing that my sons had achieved their dreams that they had worked so hard for their whole lives, and that God threw in his own little bit of magic and said ‘this is where you guys are supposed to go’ and made it happen. And then to see it all put together, now I just walk down there and I love to sit down there some days and just take it in. Every little nook and cranny of that basement has a memory and has something beautiful to it.”
How it happened
As a former Utes defensive lineman, Mike Wilson would take his four sons to all the Utah football camps and the family would frequent Utah games. Everyone’s wardrobe featured a lot of red T-shirts and the family of eight only had eyes for the Utes.
It was Zach’s dream to play for Utah, but Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff took a pass because the Utes already had an early commitment from Jack Tuttle, the highly recruited quarterback from San Marcos, Calif., who wound up leaving the program before the end of the his first season in Salt Lake City.
“I think you hope as a dad that they follow your footsteps, but each kid has their own path,” Mike Wilson said. “It was never set in stone about where they were going to go — I didn’t know. … Lots of other schools recruited my boys, but not Utah for whatever reason.”
After Zach Wilson had committed to Boise State, BYU came into the picture. With offensive coordinator Ty Detmer gone, Kalani Sitake wanted to bring in Zach and invited the whole family for a campus visit.
That was the start of the change from red to blue.
One of the things that stood out the most of that trip for Mike was how each player, after practice, walked up to Zach and the family to shake their hands and introduce themselves.
“Nobody told them to, it’s just the culture they created there,” Mike Wilson said. “They’re just respectful young men. I’m not saying nobody else has that, but that’s one thing that stuck out to me. One thing I think Zach’s taken away from BYU — one of many things — is he’s always just trying to be really nice to others.”
For Josh, who’s currently a linebacker for the Cougars, and Micah, who has one more year at Corner Canyon High School before he starts playing for BYU, the visit may have been for their older brother, but it was the first step at getting them in Provo as well.
“It just kind of stood out,” Josh Wilson said. “I remember we left that official visit thinking this is nothing like we thought and this is actually a really good place. I could see myself playing here and felt comfortable. It just felt like the right thing after we got shown around.”
Keeping it in the family
One of the incentives the Wilsons loved the most about BYU was the fact that it’s close to home, so Zach — and now Josh — would still be able to make it home for Sunday family dinners.
BYU has also turned out to be the school for each of the Wilson brothers, and they’ve liked being able to be there for each other.
Last fall, Josh came in as a freshman. Due to the pandemic, he didn’t get to have the type of first season or even first year like those student-athletes who came before him, including Zach. But he still felt fortunate to have been able to share that season with his older brother.
The pair weren’t tied at the hip as Zach was on offense and Josh is on defense, but the linebacker will have the opportunity to pay it forward and help the next Wilson brother transition to college ball.
“It’s honestly the greatest thing in the world,” Josh Wilson said. “Everyone always tells me that I’m so lucky to have [Zach] to look up to. I came in and a lot of the time there’s a lot of questions — everything’s new, everything’s fresh. So, having him to kind of sit and observe, helped tremendously. I just sit back and see what he’s doing every day, seeing what he’s doing to be successful, and I kind of translate that over to my life. I’m excited to show Micah that, too, because I know it can be hard going to college, leaving home, moving out.”
Over the spring, the third Wilson son, Micah, verbally committed to BYU. Micah, who also plays at the linebacker position, has one more year of high school before he would move down to Provo to join the Cougars, but he has no plans of going anywhere else.
“I’m for sure committed to BYU — I don’t think anything can change that,” Micah Wilson said. “It’s just so close to home. I love the coaches; we’re good family friends now. I just can’t wait to start.”
Both Josh and Micah said that if Zach wouldn’t have gone to BYU, they would have most likely still chosen to play for the Cougars just because of the culture that head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff have created there.
“I guess the stars lined up that way,” Josh Wilson said. “It’s hard to tell because a huge influence was [Zach] coming [to BYU], and I always dreamed of playing with my brother. But I could also see myself coming here without him because it’s a really good place. … I think I still would have came here and I think he had a huge influence, but I think it’s still a place I want to be and I’m glad I’m here.”
Still Utah fans
Although there’s not much Utah memorabilia or apparel left in the Wilson home, it doesn’t mean the Wilsons are no longer Utes fans.
Utah is a big part of Mike and Lisa’s past. That has been ingrained into the family, that it will continue to be a part of the its life, but at the moment it’s more about BYU. They still continue to cheer on the Utes — just not when they’re playing the Cougars.
Because of the pandemic, Josh has yet to play against the team he used to so heavily cheer on when he was younger, but he’ll get the chance to this fall.
However, just because the members of the Wilson family were such big Utah fans doesn’t mean they disliked BYU. In fact, they just didn’t know much about the program to the south of them.
But, since Zach chose to go there, they have fallen in love with not just the coaches and staff, but the fans. Now, there’s no other place Mike and Lisa could have imagined her sons playing at.
“I still like [Utah],” Mike Wilson said. “I still want them to win and do well. I’ve always felt that way about BYU — I’ve always wanted BYU to play well and win, except for when they were playing Utah. Right now, I just have a better connection to the staff at BYU, the players at BYU. … I would still say I cheer for Utah and I’m still a Utah fan, but I’m BYU right now.”
The Wilson legacy
It’s ironic, of course, that Utah’s decision not to recruit Zach — who was chosen second in the NFL draft by the New York Jets and is on a path to start this season — has resulted in the Wilson name become associated with BYU, but that’s exactly what has happened.
However, if Zach had somehow been recruited by Utah or stuck to his original commitment of playing for Boise State, there’s no knowing if he would have had the same level of success he did in Provo.
Maybe the cards fell just right.
Either way, with the third Wilson son expected to join the Cougars in 2022 and the fourth Wilson son — Isaac, who is also a quarterback and is said to look a lot like his brother Zach — possibly making his way down to Provo in a few years, the Wilson name could become synonymous with BYU.
Lisa said she believes BYU has a tendency to recruit brothers because the coaching staff already knows the type of player they’re getting, but this all started because of a late push by Sitake to get Zach to come down to Provo.
“I guess it’s a little lesson in life for all of us, maybe to look a little closer at things and to not be so quick to make decisions because you never know when you’re passing up on something amazing,” Lisa Wilson said. “I don’t even think the coaches up there [at Utah] would say they passed up on something amazing. … We’re not really bitter at all. Those cards were played for us and they worked out in our favor. We’re very grateful that BYU gave Zach that opportunity.”