This was to be a year of watching and learning for Utah quarterback Travis Wilson.
He was ticketed for a no-stress freshman season in which he could become acclimated to the altitude of Salt Lake City and the competition in the Pac-12 Conference.
But Utah’s quarterback of the future could be the Utes’ quarterback on Saturday against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. At the very least he is on call.
Wilson, who this time a year ago was throwing passes for San Clemente High, is Utah’s second-string quarterback. John Hays remains the starter, but Coach Kyle Whittingham said Wilson, “is pushing him, no doubt about it.”
Wilson had appeared in mop-up duty early in the season, just a couple of chances to dip his toe into the college football pool. But then another in a series of unfortunate events hit starter Jordan Wynn.
Wynn suffered his fourth shoulder injury since 2010 and was forced to retire. That left the offense in Hays’ hands for the second consecutive season.
Hays, who transferred to Utah two years ago when Nebraska-Omaha dropped its program, was laboring against USC last Thursday when offensive coordinator Brian Johnson tapped the 6-foot-7 Wilson on the shoulder.
“He said to get ready,” Wilson said. “He told me to stay calm, be confident back there, don’t get rattled, don’t over-think anything, just play the game and have fun.”
Wilson entered the nationally televised game with Utah trailing the then-13th-ranked Trojans, 38-21, with five minutes left in regulation. And he followed orders.
He took the Utes on a 63-yard touchdown drive, completing four of six passes for 49 yards.
“They knew we were going to have to throw,” Wilson said of the Trojans. “They were coming at me. I just had to find the open receivers.”
Utah lost, 38-28, but Wilson had made another good impression.
“He has made strides every week,” Whittingham said. “How much he plays this week is still being determined, but we are pleased with what he has done with his opportunities.”
At San Clemente last year, Wilson helped the Tritons to the Southern Section’s Big Five title game. Utah wasn’t the only Pac-12 school to offer a scholarship, but he went with the Utes, who were among the first to recruit him.
“One of the reasons I came here was that they told me I could get some time early,” Wilson said. “Jordan was here and I could learn. Jordan got hurt and that opened the door a little bit.”
Hays, a senior, was competent in replacing Wynn last season. He was so again this season. He has completed 59 of 100 passes for 627 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions.
But the Utes are now seeking a spark, and their long-term solution at quarterback may also become the short-term answer.
“I still have to win the job … " said Wilson, who has completed eight of 10 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. “They’re going to bring another kid in next year who’ll want to be the starter.”
By then, Wilson may have already shown the job should be his to keep.
“I’m getting more reps in practice,” he said. “I don’t know how much playing time it will translate into, but I’m building my confidence.”