Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Travis Wilson was quickly labeled the team's quarterback of the future upon signing with Utah.
The future caught up to Wilson quickly as he went from third string to becoming Utah's starter as a freshman over the final seven games of the 2012 season. It ended up being a rough welcome to Division I football.
Wilson was at the controls of an offense that ranked among the worst in the Pac-12 as Utah finished 5-7, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
Seeing the Utes struggle through a season once is enough for Wilson. He wants to do his part to steer Utah in a better direction this year.
"I definitely want to be a leader on this team," Wilson said. "My guys trust me as a leader. That's something I'm definitely working on."
That's exactly the sort of thing Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is looking for from his sophomore quarterback.
The Utes have greater depth at quarterback than they have for several seasons. Still, Whittingham has turned the keys over to Wilson going into the season opener against Utah State on Aug. 29.
What Whittingham wants to see from Wilson in return is a willingness to take his teammates on his shoulders and accept responsibility for getting the offense to do what it needs to do to win games.
"He's a more confident guy," Whittingham said. "He still needs to continue to develop even further in that regard and also with his leadership. As a Division I quarterback, you're the leader of the team. You got to take charge. There's some days he still hasn't figured that part of it out."
One thing that has helped Wilson gain confidence is the up-tempo spread offense Utah's new co-offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson, helped install in the spring. The Utes are mixing in more no-huddle looks and other wrinkles designed to speed up the game and help get the offense more on par with what many other Pac-12 schools are doing.
Erickson already believes Wilson has evolved far beyond where he was as a quarterback in spring ball.
"He's made a great deal of progress in a lot of different ways," Erickson said. "He's got a real command of what's going on and where to go with the football, what the defenses are and all those things. The thing that's really jumped out at me is he's much more accurate than in the spring when I came in. He's always had a lot of zip on the ball, but he's getting it out of his hands (faster) and he's much more accurate."
A better command of the playbook should help Wilson improve on an uneven freshman season. He had decent numbers, throwing for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns. But Wilson also threw six interceptions and had several instances where he couldn't get the offense into the red zone or the end zone when the game was on the line.
Still, just having game experience has made a big difference in his confidence.
"Being a true freshman quarterback is probably one of the hardest things you can do," Utes tight end Jake Murphy said. "You can just tell Travis is more comfortable. He's more confident. He knows the playbook better."
For his part, Wilson isn't acting too comfortable in his role. He knows plenty of quarterbacks are eager to take his spot if he doesn't get the job done. Wilson remains focused on pushing himself to perform at a high level in practices and in games.
"It's definitely nice to be at the first of the line," Wilson said. "But I still have young guys behind me, so I still got to compete."
No one on the Utah coaching staff is expecting Wilson to do it all alone. They want him to be a leader. But they also are looking for everyone else to step up and fill major roles to give true balance to the offense.
Returning receivers like Murphy, Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott and returning running back Kelvin York will need to do their part if the Utes are going to contend in the Pac-12 South.
"A quarterback is only as good as the people who are playing with him," Erickson said. "Maybe the biggest thing is, can we run the football? If we can run the football, we can get down and distance situations that are way better. Then we don't have to put everything on him."
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