Zach Wilson 2019
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

A BYU recruiting insider spoke about how Zach Wilson was the driving force behind the resurgence of the school’s football program.

Michael Nania

In 2017, the BYU football team posted a 4-9 record, the school’s worst performance since the 1970 season. That same fall, Zachary Kapono Wilson was the starting quarterback for the Corner Canyon Chargers high school football team in Draper, Utah.

Wilson enjoyed a sterling senior season that featured 32 total touchdowns and an eventual commitment to BYU.

Fresh off the school’s least inspiring campaign in over four decades, Wilson won BYU’s starting job as a true freshman with the pressure of getting the program back on track. And that’s exactly what he did.

The probable future New York Jets quarterback helped lead the Cougars to a 7-6 record in 2018, a mark the team would match in 2019. Then, in 2020, BYU soared to an 11-1 record, the school’s best since 1996. The team’s final ranking of No. 11 in the Associated Press poll was also their best since 1996.

The impact Wilson’s had on the Cougars program is obvious, and the latest Cool Your Jets Podcast guest did not stray from that opinion. BYU recruiting insider Jeff Hansen of Cougar Sports Insider and 247Sports spoke glowingly of Wilson’s impact on the program.

“Zach deserves so much credit for changing the culture of that team,” Hansen stated.

It was the contagious nature of Wilson’s work ethic that made it all happen.

“He was going to be the guy that watched the most film,” Hansen added. “He was going to be the guy that stayed at practice the latest.”

“He eats and drinks football. That’s what he does all the time. If you ask him what his hobbies are, he’ll tell you he really doesn’t have any.”

The example that Wilson set played a massive role in reshaping the mentality of the team.

“You could see the work ethic of the entire locker room change. Everybody wanted to stay late at practice, everybody wanted to do more, and it was because the quarterback – the face of the team – was out there leading the charge.”

Many of Wilson’s critics have listed his level of competition as a primary concern, stating that the stacked Cougars team was consistently more talented than its opponent. However, based on the difference between the BYU team that Wilson inherited and the one that he left, perhaps the narrative should instead be about how Wilson lifted up a downtrodden team.

BYU was not exactly a hotbed for offensive talent before Wilson’s arrival. Over the previous 10 NFL drafts (2011-20), only one offensive player from BYU was drafted – running back Jamaal Williams in 2017. This year, BYU is likely to have three offensive players drafted: Wilson, offensive tackle Brady Christensen, and wide receiver Dax Milne. Tight end Matt Bushman also may be drafted or sign with a team as an undrafted free agent.

In stark contrast, while Trevor Lawrence‘s Clemson Tigers and Justin Fields‘ Ohio State Buckeyes will most likely not miss a beat without their star quarterbacks in 2021, BYU could be headed back down to earth without Wilson.

“BYU is going to take a big step back,” Hansen noted. “Regardless of who they play, they’re going to take a huge step backward.”

It might be time to start talking about how Wilson made the talent around him look good rather than the other way around – and it all started with the example that he set off the field.

Check out the entirety of the interview here.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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