It took awhile, but Arizona State sophomore tight end Jay Jay Wilson finally caught his first collegiate reception, and with it, his first collegiate touchdown.
Wilson’s first catch as a Sun Devil went for a 30-yard touchdown in ASU’s 51-41 win over California on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end’s touchdown tied the game for the Sun Devils, 34-34 with 6:21 remaining in the game.
Wilson said, “it felt like the ball was in the air forever” because he was so wide open down the field, but he was didn't want to take all the credit for the play.
“Honestly it all started with (ASU offensive coordinator Chip) Lindsey calling the run and (junior running back) Demario (Richard) just pounding it in and you see the O-line doing their jobs the whole game and then we just kept bringing the safeties up and he came in the box (Cal safety Luke Rubenzer) and didn’t do his responsibility and I was wide open,” Wilson said. “It really wasn’t me. All I did was do my job and catch the ball.”
On the following Cal possession, quarterback Davis Webb threw an interception to senior linebacker Salamo Fiso and ASU scored a field goal on its ensuing possession to put ASU up 37-34 with 3:17 remaining.
Graham said Wilson is a “very integral part of ASU’s offense” and moving forward, Wilson will have a bigger role.
“He’s one of the guys our teammates like and as we move forward I think his role will be expanded,” Graham said.
Wilson, a Valencia, Calif. native, was ranked a four-star prospect by Scout.com coming out of high school. He was listed by Scout.com as the No. 33 outside linebacker recruit in the nation and seventh-best outside linebacker in the West region. He was used in high school as a hybrid linebacker, as a running back and as a receiver.
In his first year with ASU in 2015, Wilson went back and forth between offense and defense, playing both tight end and inside linebacker. He started out camp at tight end, but had an injury that limited him before getting a look at Devil backer and inside linebacker. Eventually, Wilson moved back to offense and primarily played as a blocking lead back and on special teams in limited roles.
“It wasn’t really like a huge change for me because in high school I played everything,” Wilson said. “I’m an athlete and I love football and I look at myself as a football player before any position so I just do what (ASU head) coach (Todd) Graham asks me to do.”
After trying out multiple positions in 2015, Wilson did not play the first two games of 2016 for ASU due to a disciplinary suspension. After his suspension was lifted headed into week three, Wilson was switched out of a gold scout team jersey at practice and into a maroon offensive jersey.
“He wasn’t able to play the first two weeks and so Jay Jay has worked really diligently and hard and worked hard in camp and he’s definitely a guy his physicality has improved dramatically and had a big touchdown catch and I was really excited and happy for him,” Graham said. “Jay Jay is one of my favorite kids. He's just got a great spirit about him and I like his toughness and competitiveness.”
While Wilson was out the first two games, junior defensive lineman Christian Hill was a driving force in the "Sparky" formation that allowed ASU junior running back Kalen Ballage to score six of his eight touchdowns on Sept. 10 against Texas Tech.
Wilson’s first snap of the season was alongside Hill in ASU’s Sparky package in ASU’s 32-28 win over the University of Texas at San Antonio. Wilson replaced junior running back Demario Richard in the Sparky formation.
Wilson made his next appearance in the Sparky package Saturday night in ASU’s game against Cal. In a fourth-and-one situation in the fourth quarter at Cal’s 45-yard line, Ballage converted, gaining seven yards on the play.
ASU went back to Sparky formation on first down and Wilson was again in as the H-back. On the ensuing play, Wilson scored his first collegiate touchdown on a well-executed second and two play call from Lindsey.
In addition to the offense, Wilson also contributes on most of ASU’s special teams units, specifically kickoff and kick returns.
“If I’m running down the kickoff with (junior Devil backer Koron) Crump I know when I go off on offense I’m not just playing for those 11 guys on offense, I’m also playing for Crump who is sitting down on the bench ready to come out on defense and do the same thing to me,” Wilson said. “I feel like it prepares it better for you to play as a team.”
In addition to Wilson making an impact on the offense, another tight end had one of his best games as a Sun Devil against Cal in terms of blocking.
“It was fun hitting those guys,” ASU senior tight end Kody Kohl said. “They didn’t like it so that made it funner. They got frustrated and they grabbed and stuff and that made me happy. I like irritating people.”
Kohl, a 6-foot-3, 246-pound tight end, has been one of Wilson’s mentors since the arriving to Tempe and he said Wilson’s touchdown was “one of the best feelings of the season.”
“Because when he has success that means we have success and we kind of take each others touchdowns as our touchdowns, it’s not just his, it’s me and I’s and so we were jumping all over each other and that was really fun,” Kohl said.
Watching Wilson grow up and turn into an integral part of the offense is something Kohl said he enjoys, and he loves the physicality Wilson brings to the table as well.
“Obviously Kody Kohl, leader of the group from blocking to catching, and everything I got prepared from that moment (30-yard touchdown catch) from him and (tight ends) coach (DelVaughn) Alexander,” Wilson said.