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Utah football: What will prep phenom QB Isaac Wilson bring to Utes?

If there’s one story that sums up Isaac Wilson’s high school career at Corner Canyon, and what Utah fans can expect from him in the future, it’s what happened right before Week 4 of the 2023 season.

After playing on an injured knee for the first three weeks — throwing for 1,185 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 257 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground — Wilson underwent surgery to remove bone fragments from his knee on Aug. 28, a Monday.

“Coach Ludwig’s offense really, really marked it off for my brother Zach when he came and looked at it. … That’s what I really need for development, going to the NFL, where I want to be. So that’s the ultimate goal, but I got to play now, play good when I get up to Utah.” — Isaac Wilson

He told Chargers coach Eric Kjar he was going to play in that Friday’s game.

Sure enough, on Thursday, Wilson was going through Corner Canyon’s walkthrough, and he indeed started that Friday contest against Farmington, leading the Chargers to a 42-3 win and throwing two touchdown passes.

“It’s up there with one of my favorite things ever about him,” Kjar said.

Standing on the field at Corner Canyon a couple weeks before he officially signs to play at Utah, Wilson described Utes quarterback Cam Rising as a “warrior.”

Turns out Utah’s potential quarterback of the future has that warrior mentality in spades.

“That’s just what you love, especially if your quarterback’s like that, that’s going to trickle down to the rest of your team and create a toughness just in your team culture,” Kjar said.

Wilson already had a state championship ring from 2020 — he played in three blowouts, throwing for 27 yards, behind starting quarterback Jaxson Dart — but 2023 was his final chance to win a state title as a starting quarterback, and he wasn’t going to miss out on it.

“I mean, when I heard about it, I was like, we could take those (bone fragments) out real quick. My dad’s got millions of scopes because his knees are jacked up,” Wilson said.

“I discussed with my parents, I’m like, ‘I don’t want to let down my teammates and I want to continue to play all my senior season.’ So that just really came down to it. So just being there for my teammates and playing the last year of my high school career really did it for me.”

After losing 17-7 to Skyridge in the 6A state championship in 2022, Wilson was on a mission in 2023.

Corner Canyon went 13-1, losing only to national powerhouse Bishop Gorman (Wilson threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in the 63-42 loss), and defeated Skyridge 41-27 in the 6A state championship game.

The Chargers dispatched their playoff opponents by an average of nearly 30 points, and Wilson threw for 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns with just one interception in his four playoff wins.

He saved his best performance for the biggest game of his high school career in the 6A championship rematch against Skyridge — 255 yards and two touchdowns through the air, 192 yards and three scores on the ground.

A 19-yard touchdown throw on the run to Jerome Myles, who made a fantastic tip-toe catch in the end zone, opened the scoring and a 54-yard touchdown run by Wilson put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.

Wilson hoisted the championship trophy on his future college field, having accomplished his goal of winning a state championship as a starter. The next time he’ll put on pads at Rice-Eccles Stadium will be as a member of the Utah football program.

“It’s probably the best memory to remember, best way to go out in my opinion,” Wilson said. “I got to break the state record, which I mean it was always in the back of my mind, but we were shooting for that championship to win it as a team. I mean, get Corner Canyon back on top. So just having that moment with my teammates has been great.”

That state record he’s talking about?

Just the all-time Utah high school football record for total offense in a season — 4,595 passing yards and 1,306 rushing yards, totaling 5,901 yards of total offense.

In May, before his senior season, Wilson committed to Utah, choosing the Utes over offers from Oregon, Miami, UCLA, Oklahoma State and BYU, among others.

Utah began recruiting Wilson early on, starting to pay him interest during his sophomore season. Utes offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was the point man on Wilson’s recruitment, with Ludwig stopping by practices and throwing with the Corner Canyon quarterback on a few occasions.

Being in a pro-style offense like Ludwig’s was a draw for Wilson, who has dreams to follow in his brother Zach’s footsteps and eventually make it to the NFL.

“Coach Ludwig’s offense really, really marked it off for my brother Zach when he came and looked at it. … That’s what I really need for development, going to the NFL, where I want to be. So that’s the ultimate goal, but I got to play now, play good when I get up to Utah,” Wilson said.

Wilson will be the second in his family to don the red and white. His father, Mike, played at the University of Utah in the ’90s and being a 30-minute drive from his parents is another benefit to playing in Salt Lake City.

Another selling point was the man at the helm, Kyle Whittingham. The longtime Utah head coach was also involved in Wilson’s recruitment, getting him locked up early to be the centerpiece of Utah’s 2023 class.

“Coach Whittingham, he really does it all. He’s a great guy. I know he’s going to elevate me in a football aspect and also in an aspect where I could become a better man,” Wilson said.

In the months following Wilson’s decision, two Corner Canyon teammates — offensive lineman Isaiah Garcia, who blocked for the Chargers quarterback, and edge rusher Kash Dillon — also announced their pledges to Utah. Garcia is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the state of Utah by 247Sports and ESPN, while Wilson is tabbed as the No. 1 player in Utah by Rivals and On3. Dillon is rated as the No. 6 recruit from Utah, per 247Sports, and with the commitment of American Fork safety Davis Andrews (No. 4 recruit in the state per 247Sports), the Utes locked up four of the top six players in Utah.

Enrolling early gives players a jump-start on their college career, and participating in spring ball during a freshman season can pay dividends down the road. Aside from the academic transition to college, Wilson will be getting familiar with Ludwig’s offense and have the chance to glean as much as possible from the Utah offensive coordinator and veteran Utah quarterback Rising, who is returning to the team for 2024 after missing the entire 2023 season rehabbing his knee.

“I can’t wait to learn from Cam Rising. He’s been killing it. Getting up there early, that’s really been my focus because I get to see the difference between high school and college and their different aspects, but I’m just excited to learn from Cam Rising when I get up there,” Wilson said.

“Coach Whittingham, he really does it all. He’s a great guy. I know he’s going to elevate me in a football aspect and also in an aspect where I could become a better man.” — Isaac Wilson on Utah’s head coach

Graduating high school early takes academic commitment, and Wilson is busy this holiday season finishing up the last couple of classes needed to get his high school diploma so he can enroll at the University of Utah in January.

Before then, Wilson is slated to have knee surgery. The tricky part is that he has to wait for a donor match, which means the surgery date is up in the air.

“It’s a cadaver (surgery), so I have to get new bone and cartilage put into my femur. I chipped off a couple pieces, so I’ll get surgery after I get a match,” Wilson said. “So it could be next week or I don’t know, three months from now. We just have to get a match. But I’ll be in a lock brace for four weeks, not being able to walk. But then after three months I’ll start lifting and getting into it and I’ll be at 100% by six months and I’ll be working with Utah all the way through that.”

Whether he participates in spring camp in a limited form is up to when he gets the match for the surgery, but just being present and learning Ludwig’s offense will give him a boost for fall.

“Just as a quarterback … it’s so important for them from an intellectual standpoint, probably more than even physical, getting his scheme down, getting calls down, understand what Coach Ludwig wants and what they all want, and then being around those guys already, even though it’s just a few months, it’s a big head start for him,” Kjar said.

While the lights in Salt Lake City aren’t quite as bright as New York, there’s still going to be big expectations on the younger Wilson when he arrives on the hill. Learning how to handle outside noise and pressure is one thing that Isaac has gleaned from his older brother, who was drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL draft and has had an up-and-down career in the Big Apple.

“He’s taught me to just keep my head down, keep grinding, just do the work and it’ll show,” Wilson said. “And you can’t listen to all that outside noise. You got to work in silence.”

“So I mean, it’s hard for him in New York, super big media platform and a lot of people out there are trying to get after him and stuff. But I mean, he’s still grinding away. He’s taking it perfectly. No one knows underneath all that how much is on his shoulders, but he’s taking it perfectly. His head’s up, he’s still grinding away. He’s still doing everything he can.”

Wilson has a lot of attributes that jump out at you on film. The arm strength, the accuracy, the ability to escape pressure and throw on the run.

But the intangibles are where Wilson, one of five finalists for the MaxPreps National Player of the Year, has grown the most, according to Kjar.

Leadership is one of the attributes that Whittingham has praised Rising for during his career at Utah, calling him the “leader of leaders” and the “alpha dog.” Rising’s ability to rally the troops and get players to buy in is an important quality in his success at Utah.

To be a successful quarterback at the Power Five level, you have to have leadership ability, and Wilson has developed that at Corner Canyon.

“Leadership’s probably the biggest thing that I saw him change, especially the last part of last season and the start of this year,” Kjar said.

“Especially just being able to bring his teammates together and having that quality where his teammates like being around him, they like playing with him, they like playing for him and competing with him.

“I thought that’s where he took big steps,” Kjar continued. “He’s always had a ton of talent. He’s competitive. He’s always had those things, but when you see how much it matters to him, I think your teammates follow that beat a ton.”

Ahead of Utah’s regular-season finale against Colorado, Whittingham said that the quarterback room has a way of shaking itself out. Sure enough, that’s what ended up happening.

After Rising’s announcement that he was returning, three Utah quarterbacks — Bryson Barnes, Nate Johnson and Mack Howard — entered the transfer portal. Utah is active in the transfer portal to try to land a quarterback to shore up the quarterback room in 2024, but as it stands right now, Brandon Rose and Wilson are the two main contenders to back up Rising.

In 2025, the starting job looks like it will be wide open.

“I just need to learn all the ins and outs, absorb as much as I can from coach Ludwig and all the other quarterbacks there. And I just need to do what Zach always does. Keep grinding, keep doing what I got to do to win and compete,” Wilson said.

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