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September 13, 2012As any athlete knows, sports can bring huge highs, and seemingly the lowest of lows. True freshman Travis Wilson has already seen his fair share as a Ute.
Wilson graduated high school early in order to enroll at the University of Utah in time to participate in spring camp. Arriving as a freshman in spring instills nerves and questions for a young football player wondering whether or not he has what it takes to compete at the next level, makes adjustments into college life and for many, leaving home for the first time.
Once their lives and the uncertainty begin to settle, spring camp, particularly for a highly recruited quarterback becomes a fairly safe place, largely isolated from fans and media scrutiny.
Shielded from public view, an early arriving freshman can make mistakes and is allowed to grow free from judgment and resides in a fairly positive place with the patient, mentor-type support of his older teammates.
Late summer arrives and with it, fall camp. A change in weather and drastic change in atmosphere, pressure and expectations inevitably follow the intensive weeks of camp. Classes resume, fans fill the stadium and before its realized, over 45,000 pairs of eyes are watching.
Wilson helped his team cruise to an easy win in Utah's home opener, enjoying the limelight after rushing for two touchdowns out of the wildcat formation. Currently, Wilson is perfect in passing and has an efficiency rating of 347.2. While he has certainly worked hard to earn his opportunities, things have gone smoothly for the talented 6-foot-6 quarterback thus far.
Two weeks into the season, however, Wilson is getting a quick and poignant lesson on the highs and lows of his chosen sport, at the FBS level.
After experiencing his first home win, Wilson now has the experience of a demoralizing loss to an in-state rival to go along with his first taste of collegiate victory.
Call the loss an equalizer, as neither life nor sport will allow for ease or a bump-free ride.
"It was definitely hard, because we tried so hard to come back and score at the end," said a seemingly un-phased Wilson of Utah's overtime loss to Utah State last Friday. "It was a tough loss."
While the low-key Wilson certainly hates to lose, his thoughts went immediately to his senior teammates as he looked back on the tough loss to Utah State.
"I would never want to let down our seniors since its their last season," Wilson lamented. "I felt like we kind of did in that game, and so I just want to kind of get to the next game to get rid of that feeling."
Speaking of the next game, in the midst of all the recent events, Wilson finds himself at the beginning of his very first rivalry week, as Utah prepares to meet long-time foe BYU Saturday and finds himself in a position to possibly take over the starting position in Wynn's absence.
With no experience in the rivalry game to draw on, Wilson is extremely aware of how much the upcoming contest against the Cougars means to his senior teammates and cited that as his primary motivating factor heading into the key game.
"With everything that happened last week, I just want to help do everything I can to get a win for our seniors and help them have success in their last season," Wilson said. "I'm just going to go out there and do my best when I have my chances and help these guys go out the way they deserve to."
In the infancy of his own journey, Wilson is also witness to the end of his friend and mentor's unexpectedly shortened ride, as Jordan Wynn made public his decision to retire due to medical reasons on Tuesday.
In his short time at Utah, Wilson has been vocal about how willing a mentor Wynn had played for him, and just how instrumental Wynn's influence has been on the fellow So-Cal native.
Jon Hays, who is also vying for the starting job left vacant by yet another Wynn injury, has also been deeply influenced by Wynn by all accounts, even going so far as to call Wynn's tutelage as settling and necessary to any success he experienced last season.
"Jordan is a great person, and a great player. My condolences go out to him," Hays said. "I love the guy and he helped me through a lot last season. I'm sure he's going to go on and do bigger and better things with his life, but definitely a disappointing thing for him."
Given what Wynn has meant to both quarterbacks looking to take his spot, Wilson and Hays are together mourning a friend and teammate and seizing a huge opportunity, displaying the strong, but rarely talked-about closeness that exists among the Ute quarterbacks.
More than competing against each other, the very real sense at Utah is that Wilson and Hays are helping each other through a similar, tough situation and preparing for the challenges ahead together.
"Me and Travis are preparing together and trying to help each other out," Hays said. "It definitely helps to have someone to talk through things with and so that's something we'll continue to do."
While the injury is tough to take as a teammate, it opens the door for the young Wilson, who envisioned just this sort of opportunity and the possibility of early playing time.
The lessons are tough and bittersweet, especially for one so young and with so many hopes and expectations of his own ahead.
So young is Wilson that he may not yet fully appreciate the gravity of recent events and how they may yet affect him as his career goes on, but his first weeks as a college football player will have certainly prepared him to expect the unexpected, and have baptized him into the sometimes cruel world of college football.
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