The discouraging news hit Utah quarterback Travis Wilson harder than any defensive lineman.
It was November, and Wilson knew he was likely going to miss at least one game with a concussion. But then the doctors found something more, damage to an artery in his brain.
He was told his career was most likely over.
“There are some parts of me that believed that I wouldn’t play again,” he said. “The first couple of meetings with the doctors, it was mostly bad news and they mostly told me to stop playing.”
Wilson refused to completely let go. Now he’s back with the Utes and hoping to help turn around a team that went 5-7 in each of the past two seasons.
Wilson, an athletic 6-foot-7 junior with a powerful arm, started seven games for Utah as a freshman, passing for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns with six interceptions.
Last season, he threw two touchdowns in Utah’s 27-21 upset of then-No. 5 Stanford, the Utes’ first victory at home over a top-five team. A gash to his throwing hand against the Cardinal hindered him in the next two games, both losses, before the concussion that led him to sit for the season.
He finished with 1,827 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
In February, Wilson got the report he was hoping for. The artery was stable. Wilson could participate in non-contact drills during spring football. In June, doctors cleared him for the season.
“To me, there was not even a question whether I was going to hang up my cleats or not,” Wilson said. “I always wanted to come back and play again.”
While he’s No. 1 on the depth chart in fall camp, Wilson is seeing competition from Kendal Thompson, a transfer from Oklahoma. Utah hasn’t had a quarterback start an entire season since 2008 when Brian Johnson led the undefeated Utes to a Sugar Bowl victory.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said he thinks the competition has been good for Wilson.
“He’s always been a hard worker, but he is really taking it to another level in this offseason. I think part of it is the competition. I had to motivate Travis a little. I’ve always said the competition almost all the time is a good thing and a healthy thing for a team,” the coach said.
Some say the Utes have one of the toughest schedules in the Pac-12 and even the nation this season. They visit Michigan at the Big House, and that’s not to mention their competition in the Pac-12: Oregon, UCLA, USC and Stanford.
Wilson said he believes Utah’s strength this season is that the team is especially close and confident. They’ve learned the lessons of last season: The victory over Stanford, he said, showed the team that it is capable of competing with anyone.
“I’m definitely working on protecting the football, I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I think that was the big letdown about last year — having so many turnovers — so that’s what I’m focusing on.”
For now, there are no worries about Wilson’s health.
“The medical staff has indicated to me and to him that he’s at no greater risk than anybody else with this condition that he has. So we’re just moving forward as though he’s a hundred percent,” Whittingham said.
And certainly, Wilson isn’t letting it impact his outlook. He said he’s excited to get the season underway.
“I feel like it’s not a risk that’s going to put me in any danger. The doctors have my back on that as well,” he said. “It’s something I’ll have to keep checking, but it’s not something I’m going to worry about.”
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