Provo • When Jacob Conover signed with BYU in the winter of 2018, it came with added expectations.
Conover was a highly touted recruit who held offers from Alabama and Ole Miss. His arm strength and playmaking ability — winning three state championships in Arizona and throwing for over 10,000 yards — made him one of the more recognizable players in the country. When he chose BYU, people immediately anointed him as Zach Wilson’s eventual heir-apparent.
But his career hasn’t played out that way to this point. Conover has played in just two games and thrown 10 passes. He has endured two quarterback battles and is in the heat of a third.
“I’m really working on the mental side of things now,” Conover said. “Being a quarterback you have to be a smooth operator. Cool, calm and collected under pressure. And obviously it is hard to do that when you are not playing. So I’m just trying to train my mind.
“I’m maturing a bit more. I don’t have to be the hero every single play.”
Conover comes into spring practice in a different position than some would have predicted when he signed. BYU already has its starting quarterback, Jaren Hall. Conovor is fighting to be BYU’s backup.
His path has been made more difficult as the program brought in Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan to compete with him. Fennegan played in three games at Boise State and sat out all of last year because of a late transfer. And freshman Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters is emerging in camp as a viable fourth option.
It is not to say Conover doesn’t have an inside track at the job. But this spring is about Conover showing tangible growth. And that starts with becoming more mature in his approach.
“There are basically three guys in the race” to back up Hall, head coach Kalani Sitake said. “Everyone knows Jacob has always been involved with it. But Cade [is stepping] up there. Sol-Jay is getting his foot in the door.”
Conover has opened spring practice getting the most reps with the second team and some with the first team. He has focused on checking down on his reads and moving the offense.
In years past, he might have forced a bigger play to show off his arm strength. But he is focused on himself and showing he can play the position rather than display a certain trait.
“He has a cannon of an arm. [Before], he [was] always trying to fit the ball into [tight windows],” wide receiver Puka Nacua said. “Now he is just being smart with the decisions he [makes] and the risks he [takes]. I always joke that there is never a light Conover pass.”
Some of Conover’s maturation is happening off the field. While he is friends with Fennegan, he isn’t as focused on the competition. Or what it means that BYU decided to bring in another player to the quarterback room.
“It is mentally taxing for every person [to be in a quarterback battle several times],” Conover said. “We see this as a full-time job, but we love it. I’m understanding how the game works a bit more. The game is slowing down for me.”
Sitake has no timeline for when he will name a backup quarterback. But he does see the depth chart becoming more solidified going into the summer. The emergency quarterback spot is a priority for the coaching staff, especially as Hall missed three games last year due to injury.
“We need to keep figuring out how [the quarterbacks] rank,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. “... We aren’t ready yet. I wouldn’t say any of those guys are game-ready yet. But there is ability there and enough potential that one of those guys will emerge as the clear-cut number two. There is no rush.”
And Conover isn’t in a rush anymore either. Maybe two years ago he would have wanted the battle to be over. But this year he is soaking it in and letting it come to him.
“I’m in a great spot,” Conover said. “Just being ready. When I’m on the field, I act like the starter and run the show. Whatever happens in the season, we will just see how it plays out.”