‘Exact same story as Zach’s’: BYU linebacker Josh Wilson also grew up wanting to be a Ute

Corner Canyon High’s Van Fillinger, right, and Josh Wilson sign their letters of intent; Fillinger with Utah, Wilson with BYU.
Corner Canyon High School athletes Van Fillinger, right, and Josh Wilson sign their national letters of intent in Draper on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. Fillinger signed with Utah and Wilson signed with BYU. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

After Saturday’s BYU-Utah game, about 200 Wilson family members and friends will board a charter flight to Charlotte to watch Zach Wilson make his NFL debut Sunday

When he was 12 years old, current BYU linebacker Josh Wilson sat in his family’s seats near the 50-yard-line at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City and dreamed of playing in the rivalry game for the Utes.

“Never in my mind did I think it was going to be for BYU,” Wilson said.

Well, things have changed.

As has been told hundreds of times, the Wilson family of Draper switched allegiances in 2017 when Utah coaches declined to offer Zach Wilson a scholarship and BYU coaches swooped in at the last minute and lured the eventual No. 2 NFL draft pick of the New York Jets away from Boise State.

Saying he wanted to play with his brother at BYU, Josh committed to the Cougars in March 2019, continuing the family’s southern migration. The third of Lisa and Mike Wilson’s four boys — Corner Canyon linebacker Micah Wilson — committed to BYU in April and will join the program next spring.

The youngest Wilson boy, Isaac, is a sophomore quarterback at Corner Canyon backing up USC commit Devin Brown, but already has offers from BYU and Oregon, according to 247sports.com.

In a development that is still “kind of surreal” to him, Josh will suit up against the team he grew up “loving with all my heart” when BYU hosts Utah on Saturday (8:15 p.m., ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

“Growing up I was all Utah (fan) and that was huge for me. Everybody knew that about me. I just dreamed about playing in the Utah-BYU game,” he said. “It is cool and interesting that I finally get to do that. … Same as Zach, I was just a diehard Utah fan. Every Utah home game I was there, with my dad and family. So yeah, it was the exact same story as Zach’s. I was a huge Utah fan.”

After Zach Wilson committed to BYU in December 2017, Josh continued to attend camps in and out of the state, including Utah’s, before deciding BYU was going to be the best place for him as well.

“It was definitely weird at first, but as soon as Zach came to BYU we all switched over,” Josh said. “We are a close family, so we stopped going to Utah games and started going to BYU games. Obviously, we still wanted (Utah) to do well, but we were all BYU at that point.”

While Zach Wilson was becoming a legend in Provo last year, guiding the Cougars to an 11-1 season and No. 11 national ranking, younger brother was getting adjusted to the college football life. Josh appeared in eight games in a backup role and made five tackles.

In last week’s 24-16 win over Arizona, he made a terrific pass breakup and also made a solo tackle playing behind starting linebackers Payton Wilgar, Keenan Pili and Ben Bywater (filling in for Max Tooley, who was a game-time decision but didn’t play).

“It was awesome,” Josh said of his big PBU. “I am just taking small steps. A lot of people don’t see the hard work that we put in, so when I get a chance, it feels really good to go out there and play.”

Utah and BYU didn’t play last year due to the pandemic, so Saturday’s game will give Josh his first taste of the rivalry.

“It is going to be really emotional for me,” he said. “I am heading into it with the thought that I really want to beat those guys. Just seeing both sides, it is going to be competitive and fun.”

Wilson, Pilgar and Pili all said Tuesday night that the BYU defense is making tackling a point of emphasis this week, after some missed tackles last week led to Arizona turning small gains into big ones.

“Yeah, it is definitely something we got to work on,” Wilson said. “I think guys were just really tired and one of the main things with missed tackles is just fatigue. We are definitely doing tackle drills this week and working on our feet. But is also just conditioning and making sure we are staying on top of those things.”

Obviously, the rivalry game isn’t the only big game for the Wilsons this week. Zach Wilson will make his debut in the NFL when the Jets play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The entire family, including Josh, will be in Charlotte as part of the “Wilson Weekend” put together by Zach’s uncle, David Neeleman.

The JetBlue founder chartered a flight for 200 people to leave Salt Lake City after the BYU-Utah game and land in Charlotte in time for the Jets’ season opener. Obviously, the Neeleman family has huge interest in both games, and wanted to be at both if at all possible.

“We are really excited, and as people know, we have a huge family,” Wilson said. “So all of my cousins, uncles, aunts are going to be there. We are all super excited for Zach. I am sure he is going to do awesome. So just a big weekend planned. A lot of fun stuff.”

With a rivalry football game he always dreamed of being a part of starting things off.