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Brad Rock: Utah quarterback Travis Wilson must now show how to lead

Published: Tuesday, July 29 2014 5:20 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, July 30 2014 7:06 a.m. MDT

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson during a Utes football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” —Tony Blair

SALT LAKE CITY — Travis Wilson made the mistake of saying yes. Someone handed him an alcoholic drink last week — or maybe he acquired it himself — and it was easy to comply. A 20-year-old kid, a summer night, an outdoors concert, the grueling fall camp just a week away.

Wilson wasn’t saying yes to a constituency, as a world leader might do. He only said yes to a relatively minor but illegal decision: underage alcohol possession/consumption. The University of Utah’s starting quarterback was cited and released on the scene.

As law-breaking goes, this wasn’t far above a parking violation. Wilson wasn’t driving a car or threatening concertgoers. Unlike BYU, where the honor code factors into these things, Wilson’s issue was between himself and the law.

Still, the player projected to be the team’s flag-bearer in 2014 has made his first mistake of the new season. He hasn’t played a minute in 2014, but already he’s misread the coverage.

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” — John Maxwell

Some will say this could only happen in Utah. A college kid has a beverage, on his own time, at a concert, and it turns into big news. But anything that involves cops and athletes is news, anywhere in the country.

In Wilson’s case, it also raised the question of whether he’s truly ready to lead, despite having started 16 games. No coach would say breaking the law is a good start.

In most visible ways, Wilson has been developing into a good leader. He is a commanding presence on the field and in the locker room, at 6-feet-6.

Teammates genuinely like him. He has a sort of low-key charisma that plays well in the media. He demonstrated true composure last year after a six-interception game against UCLA by guiding the Utes to a 27-21 win over No. 5 Stanford the next week.

Non-leaders hide in the broom closet after a six-interception game.

Wilson also showed maturity in how he handled the revelation of a preexisting brain trauma injury that threatened his career. Still an amateur athlete, he faced it like a total pro. Same thing happened when his close friend, UCLA’s Nick Pasquale, was hit by a car and killed as he walked along a road. Wilson appeared to strike a perfect balance, honoring his friend but not letting sadness overcome him.

So Wilson has the potential to lead. But he must use the incident at USANA Amphitheater as a growth experience. As any great leader will confirm, sometimes they too learn as they go.

“It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.” — Latin Proverb

It would also be absurd to imply Wilson is unqualified to run the team because of what happened last week. He will report for camp on Monday in the best condition of his career. Although Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson may yet wrest the starting spot away, that’s all conjecture. For now, Wilson is the man, even if he did let youthful impulse overrule his judgment.

Wilson’s infraction may not warrant much more than a stern lecture from coach Kyle Whittingham. But with training camp starting Monday, Wilson is the Utes’ most visible player and he needs to continually act like it.

Jaded by the countless stories of athlete arrests nationwide, fans have come to expect players to face problems with the law. Heaven knows Utah has had its share over the years. In recent months, BYU and USU players have also had encounters with the police.

That’s where Wilson can set the recent incident straight, by showing teammates his priorities are with the team and its welfare, and that he will do nothing to detract from it.

Buying into the role begins with completely buying into himself.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged

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