The craziness never drove Kalani Sitake crazy.
The Brigham Young football coach had seen all the insanity that comes with watching Zach Wilson. He had seen this jam-packed action movie before. Multiple, multiple times.
When his quarterback would confound opponents with his inexplicable escapability, Sitake would just nod. When Wilson would fire missiles from myriad arm angles, Sitake was not caught off-guard the way defenders would be. When his signal-caller would launch ridiculously long bombs, Sitake wouldn’t flinch the way defensive backs would.
“No surprises anymore,” Sitake said with a hint of a chuckle last week.
Sitake noticed shortly after Wilson arrived on campus that his preparation was a bit unconventional. He would observe as Wilson practiced how to escape precarious situations during warmups. Firing throws off his back foot, zipping the ball across his body into minuscule windows, rearing back and completing deep shots into double and triple coverage.
Been there, seen that.
“The honest truth is that we saw it every day in practice,” said Sitake. “We probably see more than what you guys think. We’ve seen it more, because he practices everything.
“But in a game, there’s not anything he does that we haven’t already seen. He tries a lot of different things, to be a student of the game. And so he’s always trying different things and seeing how he can improve and be more efficient as a quarterback. And that’s actually a great example for the rest of our players to follow and try to perfect their craft.”
Sitake believes it’s Wilson’s “explosive athleticism” that will allow him to be successful as a professional. It’s a quality that Sitake first noticed when seeing Wilson buzzing around at youth camps.
“Whether he was throwing the ball, catching them, or playing safety, he just had this ability to stick out because of his athleticism,” Sitake said. “And then it just happens that he can throw the ball and has a really strong arm. And you put that together, I think it really doesn’t matter what position he was going to play. He’s going to thrive and excel in it.”
Thankfully for the Cougars, he settled in at quarterback and became a starter almost from the moment he burst onto the scene in Provo. He really arrived on the national scene in 2020 when he threw for nearly 3,700 yards and 33 touchdowns in leading BYU to an 11-1 mark. He threw for multiple touchdowns in every game except the lone loss to Coastal Carolina.
Wilson has the size (6 feet 3 inches, 210 pounds) and above-average arm strength to thrive as a traditional pocket passer in the NFL, but also possesses the athleticism to operate outside the pocket and extend plays with his legs.
With more and more NFL clubs employing more and more run-pass options in their offense, Wilson, who is bypassing his final two college seasons, will appeal to many offensive coordinators.
Because of his skill set, Wilson has drawn comparisons to a versatile group of NFL quarterbacks.
Scouts love Wilson’s pocket presence and leadership (think Tom Brady), his quick release and consistent delivery (hello, Jimmy Garoppolo), his ability to fire the ball on the run and from multiple arm angles (howdy, Patrick Mahomes), and his penchant for the big play (there you are, Kyler Murray).
Wilson also has proven his mental toughness. There was no pouting after Sitake held an open competition for the starter’s job last summer. Wilson won the competition and won over his teammates. He also has overcome several injuries, including right shoulder and hand ailments.
Sitake isn’t one for comparisons, though he does have a prediction when it comes to his field general.
“I’ve been around really great players, and he just seems to fit the profile of guys that will be a great pro,” said the coach. “So I think he’ll do well.
“I don’t like comparing people to others, and I think that he wouldn’t want that either. He’s got a path that he’s going to work on, work towards, and I hope he gets his dreams.
“But I do think that, given the right opportunity and the right circumstances around him, he’s going to thrive in the NFL.
“And I think he’ll be a big-time player.”
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