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The only comparison anyone should think of making between Joe Namath and Zach Wilson is this: They both have dared to be different.
Namath wore a mink coat on the sideline when he wasn’t playing.
Wilson wears a headband while he is.
And it reveals the essence of the Jets’ new franchise quarterback.
“I’ll definitely wear a headband, I have to wear it or else I’m sweating all over my face and can’t see while I’m throwing the ball,” Wilson said on a Zoom call. “I think I loved the look of the headband coming out of the back of the helmet, something that kind of separates you and makes you kinda look different from maybe another quarterback or something. I always just kinda thought it had a cool look to it, so I’m sure we’ll be able to figure something out.”
Maybe the sight of Bill Belichick will be shake the kid. Maybe it won’t. Because what was written on his headband at BYU speaks volumes.
“ANY TEAM ANY TIME ANY PLACE.”
Bring It On.
“Obviously people were doubting our schedule,” Wilson said, “and the message behind it, it wasn’t a cocky statement at all, it was more of, ‘You know what, we’re confident in ourselves and we’re ready to play anybody no matter where no matter when,’
“People doubted the level of competition that we played, and we weren’t afraid to play against anyone. It was really just, ‘If you want to play us, then play us.’ ”
Wilson has come out of nowhere, a virtual afterthought, to this moment, to this championship-starved franchise and fan base. And now he must find whatever rages inside him to live up to his status as second pick of the NFL draft.
“I wouldn’t say the underdog mentality as much anymore, I’d say the ability to still prove something,” he said. “If you’re the second-overall pick and you don’t perform and you don’t work hard it really means nothing down the road, and so all this is an opportunity for me to come to an amazing organization and taking the same approach that I did when no one believed in me back in BYU at a time after my sophomore year. It’s really that prove-them-wrong mentality and just being able to have that chip on your shoulder and making sure every day you’re working and doing everything you can no matter how high the highs or low the lows are.”
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Everyone from Richard Todd to Sam Darnold could tell him about how low the lows can be here. They all believed they had the temperament for the euphoria and the disaster. They all weren’t proven right.
“Since I was 7 years old I signed up to play quarterback, and that’s what comes with the job,” Wilson said. “The fans are what make the game so fun and exciting. There’s gonna be ups and downs no matter what.”
Joe Douglas will continue to add Playmakers and Protectors — see Alijah Vera-Tucker— so the highs are more frequent than the lows. Words of wisdom and support from head coach Robert Saleh have comforted Wilson as well.
“It takes every single piece to make this thing go round. One guy’s not gonna do it on his own,” Wilson said.
Wilson has eye-opening improvisational skills, but he won’t try to do it the way one of his idols, Aaron Rodgers, has done it all these years.
“It’s really finding my own style, who I am as a quarterback, how I can be my own player,” he said. “No more trying to be like other guys, I’m gonna be the quarterback I am and give it my all and it’s gonna all work itself out.”
Nevertheless, every so often he will titillate with his off-platform genius.
“It’s definitely not trying to make it harder than it is.,” Wilson said. “You want to keep the game as simple as possible, and I feel like that’s maybe one of the things I picked up by playing basketball my whole life … the ability to react and try to make plays out of nothing I felt like was always something that was just part of my game growing up. Now I’m to the point where I want to be that pocket passer, the guy that can make plays and then when the time comes you’re able to escape and find someone down the field and extend, and I hope that can give our team the best situation to win.”
Wilson has already bonded with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
“Coach LaFleur’s awesome, we get along super-well, it’s natural, he’s an easy guy to talk to and joke around with and get along with,” Wilson said. “He’s a cool dude, I think what he’s gonna be doing scheme-wise is exactly what we need.”
The kid has a sense of humor. His dedication and commitment to win and love of the game will enable grizzled veterans to follow him, baby face and all.
“BYU’s got a bunch of older guys too with the missions and everything so I’m a little used to it,” Wilson said, and smiled. “Some of my best friends at BYU got three kids.”
When he was asked if he was bothered by any of the predraft criticism — his durability because of his slight frame, the BYU schedule, the shoulder surgery — he smiled and said: “Just the fact everyone thought I was 6-foot. That was a little harsh.”
He was smiling when he said: “My girlfriend actually said to me last night, she goes, ‘I feel like we’re gonna wake up and all this is gonna be a dream.’
“I just gotta earn my stripes now.”
ANY TEAM ANY TIME ANY PLACE.
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