Jets’ Rookie QB Gutted It Out and Won Over His Teammates at BYU Jack Bell
Some football players are born to play and some football players are born to coach -- eventually. Put Aaron Roderick, BYU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, in that latter group.
From high school in Bountiful, UT, to a collegiate career that played out in Provo, Roderick knew the days of him holding a clipboard on the sideline were not far off.
"Even then [in high school], there was something about coaching that appealed to me, the impact they had on people, the impact they had on me," Roderick told The Deseret News last February, when he was promoted to offensive coordinator. "I thought, 'Well, that is a noble pursuit, I think I could do that.' "
But then, as the Cougars' passing game coordinator and QB coach in 2018, he encountered a freshman who had a voracious appetite for film and information, testing his coach like he had never been challenged before. The coach was being coached.
The name of that freshman QB: Zach Wilson
"He wore me out," Roderick told Eric Allen of nyjets.com about Wilson's football intellect and bottomless thirst for knowledge. "He made me a better coach, he kept me on my toes. I was always worried about showing up at our quarterback meetings because I never wanted to show up and have him know more than I did about an opponent or seen more film than I'd seen, which was a challenge.
"I had to work to stay ahead of him. In game planning, I was always working toward a plan without flaws, because if I didn't he'd find those flaws. He's a film guy, and works at it really hard. He made me a better coach. It was fun to work with him."
Wilson, the No. 2 overall selection in April's NFL Draft, has been flashing the kind of skill and appetite for information during the series of voluntary OTAs at the Jets Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park. Things will get turned up a bit next week in the team's mandatory minicamp, then will get more serious at training camp in late July.
As a freshman in 2018, Wilson became the youngest (19) starting QB in BYU history -- a list of accomplished signal callers stretching from Jim McMahon, to Steve Young, to Taysom Hill (among others). He made seven starts, playing in nine games, finishing the season 120-of-182 passing for 1,578 yards, 12 TDs and 3 interceptions. He was the MVP of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, completing all 18 passes for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"All of a sudden he's the answer to all our problems, but he's a freshman," Roderick said. "He had a serious shoulder problem and surgery that offseason, then ended up playing his sophomore year injured, not 100 percent. Going into that first game I gave him the opportunity to redshirt and think about a pro career. He said 'no way, I'm playing.' He was playing well, then he broke his thumb midseason -- making a tackle. He could have sat out the rest of the season, but three weeks later he's playing, but not with a lot of flexibility in the hand. He should not have been there and just gutted through. His sophomore numbers were not off the charts [9 games, 199-of-319 passing, 11 TDs, 9 INTs], but I thought that was when he really won over his teammates. He was willing to play hurt, not concerned about statistics. He just wanted to win."
Wilson turned his spectacular 2020 season into a place among the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the latest NFL Draft. BYU rolled to an 11-1 record with Wilson starting all 12 games, completing 247-of-336 passes for an astonishing 33 TDs and only 3 INTs. In his early days with the Jets, Head Coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have raved about Wilson's zip on the ball, ability to release from different arm positions and his facility at throwing on the run.
"I thought he had pro potential the first time I saw him on the practice field," Roderick said. "He has a zip to his throws and he has the athleticism and ability to make really hard throws look easy. A lot gets made of his off-platform throws. He can throw the ball with great accuracy from a number of arm angles and body positions. On the move he's a great improviser, but also a pure quarterback who won't improvise if the play is clean. He'll hit his drop and let it rip.
"He's got a great presence on the field, and ability to really stay calm in chaotic situations. He has great energy and fire about him. In the college game he was very poised under pressure and he's a tough guy. He will take hits, but he got a lot smarter during his college career about not taking dumb hits. He's a really sharp guy, ahead of most players his age in his knowledge of the game.
"The next level is going to be a huge challenge, but he's ready."