BYU practiced Wednesday morning at their practice fields outside of the Student Athlete Building in Provo as they completed their 11th of an NCAA-allotted 15 spring practices. Kalani Sitake said that the dominant performance of the offense, which featured at least three touchdowns of 80 yards, was good and bad.
Senior linebacker Butch Pau’u started his media session by saying he was “depressed” about the performance of his teammates during Wednesday’s practice, and said the issues stretch back throughout the entirety of spring ball. He narrowed in on personal responsibility for BYU players to learn their plays as a major issue plaguing the defense throughout the spring. He added that he as a captain, along with other senior leaders, needed to step up and demand accountability from their teammates.
BYU normally makes incoming players, including freshmen, transfers and junior college players, off-limits for interviews with the media until they complete an acclimatization period. Normally that means those athletes are unavailable for interviews until the fall. Today, however, it was announced that the moratorium had been lifted and the media was allowed to speak with freshman quarterback Zach Wilson, who has been challenging for the starting job despite arriving on campus in January as an early enrollee.
“This whole spring has been crazy different,” Wilson said. “Being in high school three months ago, some of the seniors on the team have really taken me under their wing and shown me around and it’s made practicing a lot easier. It doesn’t feel a ton different, kind of like I expected it to be.”
Wilson, who starred at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, UT, said he likes the multiple looks that offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes offense has shown off this spring. Considered a dual-threat quarterback, Wilson said he’s comfortable in any set.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment,” Wilson said of taking snaps under center. “My sophomore and junior year, I was on a pro-style team so it feels like I’ve been there, done that before. I like the spread and shotgun better to a point but I think play-action kills defenses. If that’s what our team wants to do and that’s what’s going to work, I’m totally cool with it.”
After another dominant showing by the offense on Wednesday, Wilson was pleased with the bounce back effort his teammates showed.
“We had a rough scrimmage last Friday,” he said. “Today, the main thing was to execute, keep our energy high and be able to stay poised in the pocket. We did a better job of that today.”
A major theme of spring ball for BYU has been the physicality of the play on the field. Cornerback Michael Shelton, running back Kavika Fonua, offensive lineman Ethan Atagi and defensive lineman Zac Dawe, are among players who have, are or are expected miss significant time due to injury. Despite the risks, Coach Sitake feels the need to have his quarterbacks perform under “live” conditions, which they did for the fourth time on Wednesday, is worth the gamble.
“We need to see guys perform in this type of environment,” stated Sitake. “It is easy to play football when quarterbacks have all the time in the world and the only punishment they get is to get tapped on the shoulder pads. … I think it will make us better.”
Wilson, who was hampered with an ankle injury last fall at Corner Canyon said he has suffered no lingering effects from the punishment being doled out in practice on him.
“I feel great. I mean, this is the first time my ankle’s never really bothered me before,” he said. “Besides that, I feel great.
“I think it’s great,” Wilson said of going live. “In high school, I had no problem lowering my shoulder on a linebacker but here it’s different. You learn quickly to slide rather than putting your shoulder down. It shows something if you can stand there and take a hit.”
The rotation at quarterback for BYU has featured as many as eight quarterbacks this spring hoping to prove themselves. Based on observation, Wilson has settled into a steady rotation alongside Beau Hoge and Joe Critchlow with the starting offense but said he’s simply going to do his best to make the most of his opportunities.
“You kind of expect with this many quarterbacks that everyone just gets a fair shot,” he explained. “It’s taking the most out of every opportunity that you can get. If you can do well, you can keep taking more reps.
“I’m not sure,” Wilson said when asked about his position on the depth chart. “What I’m worrying about right now is just myself. When coach tells me to go in, I’m going to take full advantage of every opportunity I have to get our team down the field to score and then go from there.”
You can listen to Sitake, Pau’u and Wilson’s post-practice interviews above or right here: