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Zach Wilson's unlikely rise and uncertain future

Zach Wilson
Posted at 9:16 AM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 11:39:27-04

PROVO, Utah — As a former Ute signs off and says goodbye to the NFL (more on the great Alex Smith in a second), I can't help but ponder what's in store for another quarterback with Utah ties. One that hasn't even gotten started yet.

Then again, come Thursday will find out just how glaring the big spotlight really is.

It wasn't long ago that Zach Wilson was slinging football ball over at Corner Canyon High School. The Chargers were good, but this was before the recent string of state championships in Draper.

By no stretch would you have called Wilson a blue chip, though blue would ultimately become his color of choice. After his first option, Utah, passed him by, Wilson originally committed out of high school to Boise State before a late push from Kalani Sitake's staff stole him away last second. Looking back on it, perhaps the best move Sitake ever made.

Few collegiate quarterbacks get thrown in right away, but thanks to Tanner Mangum's quick digression in Provo, Wilson got his shot just a few games into year one.

Ups and downs that season as you might expect, but a glimpse of brilliance came four days before Christmas in 2018.

Facing Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl isn't going to catch a lot of eyes on the east coast, or any coast for that matter. But for BYU fans, perfection is perfection. You throw 18 balls in a game, chances are even Tom Brady misfires on a couple of em'. But Zach didn't. On top of the 18 completions, he tossed four touchdowns to cap a blowout win to end the year.

The follow-up campaign, though, brought its share of disappointment and growth. Wilson was picked twice and clearly outplayed by Utah's defense during their season opening Holy War bout; and he missed significant time with a shoulder injury that would take a full off-season to recuperate. Then again, wins over USC and Tennessee were both memorable, and showcased a glimmer of the kid's raw ability.

So fast forward to this past campaign. How would Wilson have fared against the likes of half a dozen Power 5 teams highlighted on the Cougar's original schedule? Odds are he doesn't finish the season 11-and-1.

Then again, North Alabama aside, Wilson did showcase things some young Cougar fans have never seen before, all while the old ones would have to dig back a ways to remember.

Weak schedule or not, BYU did end up playing some worthy mid-majors, and other than Coastal Carolina (a crazy story in and of itself), the Cougars not only beat the Navys, Boise States and Central Floridas of the world, they destroyed them. I say with full confidence that doesn't happen with Baylor Romney or Jaron Hall under center.

So what's next for Zach? Alex Smith could tell him all about it.

Nearly two decades ago, the Heisman finalist who led Utah to their finest season in program history was locked in his own water cooler debate across America.

Aaron Rodgers turned out to be okay (Alright, more like one of the top five to ever play the position). But that in no way downplays what Alex accomplished on his own across 14 seasons in the NFL.

Unlike Rodgers, it took Smith a little longer to find his groove. In fact, his glory years came quite a bit later in Kansas City where he surpassed 3,000 yards in all five seasons, and even got to 4,000 his last year with the Chiefs.

Then again, Smith's real story doesn't start to get good until he got traded to Washington. If you haven't seen his retirement video, go check it out on Instagram. It's worth the watch.

Smith's injury is as gruesome as it is well-documented, but it's what happened after that put Alex into a new category. More from a human being standpoint than that of a football player.

Few would even dare try what Smith did, let alone find himself in a situation where he could step foot on a field again at the highest level. Sure, a little luck was involved, but it wasn't by accident the Washington Football Team finished 5-1 with him as a starter, and just 2-9 without.

Storybook doesn't begin to describe Smith's dramatic career.

Looking ahead 15 years from now, what will someone like me write about Zach Wilson?

Days before the NFL Draft, you can't flip on ESPN without someone giving their opinion. It's no secret his likely destination has not fared well on young quarterbacks. The Jets do have a track record for destroying any likelihood for success.

I've spoken to Zach. I've interviewed Zach. Like you, I've watched Zach. Those who don't know him outside of what they see on television will tell you he exhibits all the signs for early failure, and a part of me believes he even wants some pundits to believe that.

But even if Wilson does go ahead and prove them wrong, he's not about to point any fingers with "I told you so" either. It's more Zach's style to just pop his gum, smile and change the subject.

Success in New York may not come in year one. Shoot, Alex Smith threw 11 interceptions and only one touchdown his rookie season in San Francisco. But perhaps after some mild success that Jets fans didn't see coming, he finds his step in years two or three.

Then What?

Can Wilson handle the scrutiny, good or bad, that certainly come in a media metropolis like the Big Apple? We're only a few years away from finding out.

Perhaps the ghost of Joe Namath will rise again. A BYU quarterback with the arm of Ty Detmer, the feet of Steve Young, and the confidence of Jim McMahon.