NEW YORK — Zach Wilson earned his place as the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft based on his ability on the field.
The Jets’ new franchise quarterback wowed Jets brass with his strong arm, off-platform throws and exceptional athleticism. Wilson’s football personality also includes being a competitive workaholic. But when he wasn’t locked into throwing touchdowns at BYU, he also showed off his empathetic side.
“Zach’s done so many videos where he sends people his love,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake says of a program the team has called “True Blue Heroes” where players reach out to families in need. “He lets people that are suffering know that he’s there for him. That’s just what he does naturally.”
Fesi Sitake, BYU’s passing game coordinator, has a friend and neighbor named Jake Martinez who was going through a devastating personal tragedy last year. His wife, Melissa Martinez, had been battling colon cancer for six years, but her last days were imminent.
The couple were major fans of the program and in October 2020 Jake asked Fesi if he could pass along a couple of BYU footballs.
Fesi sent Jake footballs autographed by the team’s star quarterback. That’s when Wilson learned about Melissa’s dire situation.
A couple months later, Fesi told Wilson that Melissa’s days were dwindling.
On Dec. 17, Wilson sent Melissa a get well video and Fesi gave her BYU gear and a signed Wilson jersey.
“She was in a really bad spot that night, but it really lifted her spirits up. It was awesome. She was so excited,” Jake tells the Daily News. “I don’t personally know Zack, but he probably doesn’t even have a clue of how much his goodness and his heart really impacted our family.”
Fesi appreciated the gesture almost as much as Jake.
“What I was feeling obviously was nothing compared to what the family was,” Fesi tells The News. “So to see their joy and hearing what his message and video did to them. What it did for me, it just gave me that reassurance that there’s goodness all over the world and it was right in front of me in Zach.”
Melissa died on Dec. 22, the same day BYU crushed UCF 49-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl. Wilson had 425 yards and five total touchdowns.
BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick also has a story to share about Wilson’s kindness.
Wilson’s Pro Day was on March 26. It was the biggest day of the pre-draft process as a host of NFL teams — including the Jets — were on site to witness his arm talent in person.
But Wilson wasn’t just focused on himself. During the event, he spotted Roderick’s 12-year-old son Quin. The soon-to-be NFL quarterback stepped aside and talked with Quin knowing how much his young fan admired him.
Quin mentioned to Wilson that he was participating in an upcoming 7-on-7 spring league.
Wilson made note of that before returning to the spotlight in front of key NFL decision makers.
A couple of weeks later, Wilson attended the abbreviated NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that focused just on medical evaluations. After the combine, he randomly shot a text to his offensive coordinator around 11 p.m., which caught Aaron by surprised.
“He texts me and says, ‘The combine was torture, what time is Quin’s game tomorrow,’” Aaron tells The News. “I didn’t remind him, I wasn’t gonna bother him was that.”
The 7-on-7 was on Sunday. Wilson brought his close family — his mom, dad, brother, sister and girlfriend — and they all loudly cheered for Quin.
That was a gesture Aaron will never forget.
“I get emotional about it. My son loves him,” Aaron says. “I have enough respect for Zack and what he’s about to embark on. Let’s face it, it’s a 50/50 deal to make it in the NFL. I’m not naive about that and neither is he. And yet he took the time to come see my kid.”
BYU’s head coach helped Wilson develop his big heart from the moment he stepped on campus in Provo, Utah. And it turns out he was destined to be a Jet.
The university has a community service program called “More2Life” and selects various players each year for a service trip.
During three consecutive summers (2017-2019) members of the football team flew to New York to visit a youth athletic organization called the Harlem Jets.
“We did activities on the weekends in Harlem where we were able to teach life skills to young people,” Kalani says. “We did football stuff but most of it was goal setting things to help the young people. Zach’s been a part of that. Anytime there’s a chance to serve he is motivated to help others. With our community service he’s the first to do it and he’s the most active.”
And it was more than just a football clinic.
“They had our guys at a station where they put together food kits for the homeless, which was super dope,” Matthew McAllister, one of the Harlem Jets coaches, says of the collaboration with BYU. “So it was a service element to it.”
“You just feel so blessed and so lucky to be part of it. Teaching people in general like there’s more to you than just an athlete.”
There were anonymous scouts that questioned Wilson’s character during the early draft process. But those close to him clearly have a different view on him. The Jets are getting a talent that has proven character on and off the field.