PROVO — A big part of the BYU football program’s fortunes in 2019 hang on the surgically repaired shoulder of quarterback Zach Wilson.
So, naturally, there was plenty of attention on Wilson’s health during BYU Football Media Day Tuesday.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound sophomore underwent surgery on his right throwing shoulder after the season and was sidelined for spring practices. But Wilson, who started throwing a football again on June 1, is optimistic about what the future holds.
“I expect myself to come back better than I was last year,” he said. “The recovery’s been good and I’m right on schedule of where I’m supposed to be. I’m expected to be 100 percent. … It’s just a progressive thing. You’ve got to let the cartilage heal back to the bone. It’s only been 18 days since I’ve been throwing. It comes back quick, with the repetition. I’m already airing it out a little bit. I’m getting more comfortable with it.”
“I think he’s on schedule and will be ready to roll,” said coach Kalani Sitake.
Meanwhile, many were expecting an announcement Tuesday about BYU’s contract with ESPN, which expires at the end of this year.
Instead, many were left wondering about the whereabouts of athletic director Tom Holmoe, who was conspicuously absent from media day festivities at the BYU Broadcasting Building.
Reporters were told that Holmoe was attending a family reunion Tuesday. Originally, media day was scheduled for a different day but when it was moved to Tuesday, Holmoe already had plans with his family.
However, Holmoe did offer some comments about the ESPN deal via a prerecorded interview that aired during BYUtv’s “State of the Program.” He explained that BYU remains in negotiations with ESPN on a contract extension but that the Cougars' bowl situation is slowing down the process.
“We’re in a good spot. We’re at the tail end and there’s been some good negotiations,” Holmoe said. "We’ve been with ESPN for a long time. They’ve done a lot of our games and they’ve helped us out in so many ways and we look forward to continue it in the future.”
Holmoe didn't discuss the anticipated length of the contact extension.
Tuesday marked the final time the media will have access to the football program until BYU begins fall camp July 31. The Cougars open the 2019 season Aug. 29 at home against archrival Utah.
“They’re a great team. Everyone’s expecting them to win the Pac-12,” Sitake said of the Utes. “It’s one of the most talented teams they’ve had at Utah. What a great opportunity for us to be in. I’m excited to see how we match up with them.”
Here is some of the news and notes to come out of media day:
The most famous shoulder in Provo
Wilson took over as BYU’s starting QB as a true freshman midway through the season and ended up completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,578 yards, including an 18-for-18 passing performance in a 49-18 victory over Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in December.
Then came the news last winter that Wilson had undergone surgery to his shoulder for an injury that dated back to his career at Corner Canyon High. From all accounts, he will be at full strength by the time fall camp kicks off.
“He appears to be on schedule, even ahead of schedule, from what I’m told,” said quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. “The only thing I lose sleep about is, I don’t get to see it every day. I want to go out there and watch him and make sure everything’s right. But I have a lot of trust in our staff and in him. He’s on schedule to be ready.”
Although he was unable to throw while he recovered from surgery, Wilson has done everything he could to improve as a quarterback.
“Zach loves studying the game. He’s more than made up for his missed time by watching more film and studying the game at a higher level,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “Just naturally from year one to year two, you’ll have a greater knowledge of our system and our opponents and of the game in general. For him, especially so because at 10:30 at night, if I text him, he’s probably more likely to be watching football than he would be playing a video game or watching Netflix. That’s probably not true for most guys his age.”
Wilson said he plans to be “100 percent” by the end of July. “Hopefully, even before then. I’m hoping a month or a month-and-a-half before that.”
How healthy is he now?
“Maybe 70 or 80 percent,” Wilson said. “I’ve only thrown a football since June 1. To progress from being 10 or 15 percent, barely being able to throw a ball five yards only 15 days ago, it comes back fast. … I have full mobility; it’s just the speed part of it. I have the mechanics down already.”
What does Wilson expects from the BYU offense this season?
“Shoot, I expect us to score every drive. This sounds stupid to say, but I don’t think any defense should be able to stop us. BYU’s offense hasn’t been as great as it should have been the last couple of years,” he said. “But honestly I can say, we’ve got the personnel, we’ve got the coaches and we’ve got the scheme. Guys have the heart to get it done. I’m just excited for this year because everyone wants to come together. It’s just a different mentality than last year. We started showing things at the end of the year and I think that’s what is making people want to really invest more time now because they really believe that we can be good.”
The partnership between BYU and ESPN
As mentioned, negotiations between BYU and ESPN are still ongoing and an announcement about an extension is still pending.
BYU signed an eight-year deal with the cable sports giant in 2010, a year before the Cougars went independent. ESPN has the right to broadcast BYU’s home games, and it also helps the Cougars with bowl arrangements.
ESPN broadcasts 35 bowl games and owns 14 bowl games. Last year, BYU’s partnership with ESPN got it into a bowl game though the Cougars finished the regular season with a 6-6 record. Other 6-6 teams stayed home for the holidays.
In most seasons of independence, BYU has known its bowl destination before the season began. This year, the Cougars will play in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve if they are bowl eligible.
“In the first contract that we did, that we’re just ending now, we had individually named games,” Holmoe said. “It looks like this time around, maybe we have some primary games that will be known but there are some nuances that we could get out of if we have an opportunity to get into a secondary bowl.”
ESPN analyst and former the starting center on BYU’s national championship team, Trevor Matich, shared his thoughts about why ESPN likes its partnership with the Cougars.
“They know BYU, at any time, has the chance to rise up and shock the world,” Matich said, referencing Cougar wins at No. 6 Wisconsin last September and No. 3 Oklahoma in 2009.
Lamb vs. kidney stone
One surprising story to emerge from media day was that assistant head coach Ed Lamb passed a kidney stone during BYU’s upset of the Badgers.
“I have a schtick with the team. I’ve never been sick a day in my life. Don’t cough unless I want to. Saddle up an elk, catch bald eagles with my bare hands,” Lamb said. “I find myself in this game and I have this intense pain (in his back). One of my jobs on game day is I’m in the kickoff huddle, getting the guys fired up, inspiring them to great feats of bravery. And suddenly, I can’t speak. I can’t form a sentence and I’m ghost white. While the game’s going on, I couldn’t stand. I took a knee. I thought I was shot with a poison dart.”
BYU trainer Steve Pincock treated Lamb and informed him that he was passing a kidney stone.
“I had plan,” Lamb recalled. “If I needed to stay there that night when the team went back (to Provo) or if I died that this would be an appropriate final day. It was crazy.”
Pincock gave Lamb medication and by the third quarter, “everything was fine,” Lamb said, adding that he carried pills with him for six weeks because the doctors told him the pain might come back.
“I was deathly afraid that I was going to be somewhere without these pills,” Lamb said.
LaVell Edwards Stadium is undergoing a renovation for the 2019 season, as previously announced.
When BYU hosts the season-opener on Aug. 29, it will usher in a new game day fan experience called “Cougar Canyon,” which was announced Tuesday.
Canyon Road, located west of the stadium, will open 3½ hours prior to kickoff. There will be, among other things, food trucks, autograph signings by BYU teams, BYU merchandise for sale, live music and photo opportunities with former Cougar players and trophies like the Heisman Trophy and the 1984 National Championship Trophy.