SALT LAKE CITY – Most starting quarterbacks would grumble about battling a highly touted transfer to hang onto their starting job. When faced with such a battle, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson took it all in stride.
That's because Wilson already won a larger personal battle this summer. The junior overcame a career-threatening injury that cut short his sophomore season and earned a second chance to play the sport he loves.
“I'm definitely really grateful I get to come back and play football,” Wilson said. “I definitely feel lucky I get a second chance to play this game.”
Bad luck has followed starting quarterbacks at Utah since the Utes reached a BCS Bowl game for a second time to end the 2008 season. Wilson suffered a heavy dose of that misfortune a year ago.
His close friend, UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale, was killed in a car accident early in the season. Then he injured his throwing hand and could only play in the first half in losses to USC and Arizona.
All of it was a prelude to his biggest trial of the season.
Wilson missed the final three games of the 2013 season after suffering a concussion in a 20-19 loss to Arizona State. Concussion tests following the game, and a follow-up CT scan, revealed an injury to his intracranial artery. Utah went 1-2 in his absence and the Utes did not qualify for a bowl game for a second consecutive year.
Team doctors were not certain if Wilson could even return to play for Utah ever again. Wilson did not let himself believe the odds were stacked against him. He held out hope he could heal enough to make a comeback.
“I never lost faith in me being able to play football again,” Wilson said. “It's always been my dream to play football and go to the next level. That always helped me and pushed me. It worked how I wanted it to (work out).”
Things began looking brighter when a test done in February showed the intracranial artery injury was not as serious as previously thought. Doctors cleared Wilson to participate in spring camp, but limited him to non-contact drills.
Another CT scan on June 20 showed the intracranial artery had remained stable since February. Wilson was given a clean bill of health. It opened the door for him to return to the football field.
“His career was in question for a long period of time there,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He kept a positive attitude that whole time. He stayed focused. He kept doing whatever they would allow him to do and it was a blessing when they cleared him just a couple of months ago.”
Wilson has not wasted his second chance. He entered fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback on the Utah depth chart and survived a challenge for the starting job from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson. Wilson will enter his third season as Utah's starting quarterback when the Utes take on Idaho State on Thursday.
Getting an experienced quarterback like Wilson back on the field will only make it easier for Utah to break in offensive schemes installed by new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. He showed some promise a year ago before injuries derailed his season.
Wilson finished the 2013 season with 1,827 yards passing and 16 touchdowns – although he also struggled with interceptions, throwing 16 picks in nine games. He proved capable of being a dual threat. Wilson ranked third on the team in rushing with 81 carries for 386 yards (4.8 average) and scored five touchdowns on the ground.
“It's definitely good to have Travis back because he knows the ropes,” Utes receiver Kenneth Scott said. “He's been through it all here. The ups and the downs. Just having him back is good because he knows what it takes now, especially going through last year. Man, that was tough. But now he seems very confident in himself and is able to go out there and do it.”
Wilson's comeback could be just the thing that revives the fortunes of a Utah football team that has struggled for the past two seasons. His game experience will be valuable in making the offense run at a higher level.
The junior isn't appearing on award watch lists or being selected to preseason all-conference teams. But Wilson has a new lease on football life. And that can't be discounted as a factor that could help the Utes finally climb the Pac-12 South ladder.
Wilson does not worry about his intracranial artery injury reoccuring. For now, the junior is eager to just embrace the chance to put on pads and a helmet and pursue his dream again.
“It doesn't bother me when I play and it's not something I think about when I play,” Wilson said. “Obviously, it's something I'll have to look out for in the future, but as of right now I'm healthy and ready to go.”
2014 football schedule
Thu, Aug 28 IDAHO STATE 5:30 p.m.
Sat, Sep 6 FRESNO STATE 1 p.m.
Sat, Sep 20 @Michigan TBD
Sat, Sep 27 WASHINGTON STATE TBD
Sat, Oct 4 @UCLA TBD
Thu, Oct 16 @Oregon State 8 p.m.
Sat, Oct 25 USC TBD
Sat, Nov 1 @Arizona State TBD
Sat, Nov 8 OREGON TBD
Sat, Nov 15 @Stanford TBD
Sat, Nov 22 ARIZONA TBD
Sat, Nov 29 @Colorado TBD