The past 10 years have not been kind to BYU Football in the Holy War rivalry, but for a few glorious quarters in 2018, the Cougars could taste their first victory of the decade, thanks in large part to a former Utah fan.
BYU’s true freshman quarterback Zach Wilson had the Cougars up 27-14 heading into the fourth quarter, with two passing touchdowns coming from the Salt Lake native. The best part of the double-digit BYU lead was the irony that Wilson grew up going to Utah Football games at Rice-Eccles Stadium every week.
His father, Mike Wilson, played defensive tackle for the Utes from 1992-95, and raised his children to wear red. The Wilson family had season tickets to Utah football games for 15 years, and sat on the second row right on the 50-yard line next to head coach Kyle Whittingham’s wife.
Zach was a standout athlete at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, playing both football and basketball. He originally committed to Boise State for football, after the Utes signed Jack Tuttle and decided to not offer another scholarship to a quarterback.
Then, in December 2017, the Wilsons heard from BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. He explained that they wanted to bring Zach down to Provo for a visit and they wanted to make him a Cougar. Zach’s mom, Lisa, didn’t want any part of it at first, and ended up being the one BYU had to convince the most.
During the visit, the Wilson family was amazed by how nice everyone was. The team showed them a video of BYU fans from around the world, and Lisa told the Salt Lake Tribune, “I just knew right then. I said, ‘Zach is a great kid, and he needs to be a role model for all these kids.’ That minute was a real emotional time for me. That did it for me.”
Lisa also told BYUtv that keeping her son close to home and being able to see him every week was also a big draw to BYU for her.
Zach committed to the Cougars, enrolled early at BYU in the winter of 2018, and was the starter for BYU by the end of the year, becoming the youngest starting quarterback in program history.
The Wilson family now has season tickets to BYU games and has managed to convert a large portion of their Ute family to cheer on Zach in Provo. Zach’s younger brother, Josh, is now a member of the BYU football team as well, as a freshman linebacker.
Though he has yet to beat the Utes in a rivalry game, Zach has still found success both individually and as a team at BYU. He made headlines when he went a perfect 18-for-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2018, and led the team to marquee wins over Tennessee and USC in 2019.
This season, the Cougars are 2-0 for the first time under Sitake, and Wilson was named to the Davey O’Brien Award’s “Great 8” list this week, joining star quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger, K.J. Costello and Kyle Trask, after he set a new career high with 392 yards and four touchdowns against Troy. He is also second in the FBS in completion percentage and pass efficiency behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.