Gary Neeleman talks about his grandson, Zach Wilson. This is what he had to say – fr

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Gary Neeleman talks about his grandson, Zach Wilson. This is what he had to say – fr


My friend Gary Neeleman called me the other day to talk about his grandson. Again. (You might be rolling your eyes, but there’s a good chance you’re talking about him, too.) The child’s name is Zach. Gary has watched him play football since he was 7 years old.

“We sat in the rain, we sat in the snow, we sat in the mud,” he said, meaning he and his wife Rose. “We have seen every game.”

For years, he told anyone who wanted to listen to him that his grandson was a sexy quarterback, a future star. Now everyone is saying the same thing. For the past six months, the kid has been causing a stir and, what do you know, last weekend he was on national television waiting for his name to be called in the NFL Draft. He didn’t have to wait long. Zach was the second player selected overall, by the New York Jets. Soon after, Gary and Rose got a call from him.

“Grandma and Grandpa, thank you for all your support,” he told them. ” I love you. I’ll talk to you when I get back.

It was all a bit surreal for Gary and Rose. There was their grandson – Zach Wilson – on the front pages of New York newspapers under headlines: “Zach’s Fifth Avenue” and “New Zach City”. There was their baby-faced Zach, who still looked like 14, smirking from the page under a green Jets cap, no facial hair, no tattoos, no earrings. , no madness, not even a stain, just that baby face. There was the kid looking for Gary and Rose in the stands after high school games so he could visit them, sometimes holding one of their hands.

“You can’t even say it’s a once in a lifetime event,” says Gary, a former international journalist, who at 87 has been slowed down by discolored vision. “It’s one life in a thousand. We were glued to the project. We were so proud and yet so nervous.

Gary and Rose went to Zach’s in Draper for the post-draft party. They walked past green ribbons tied to trees along the street (neighbors are now all-in on the Jets) and saw a Jets flag flying above the Wilson house. Aunts and uncles were at the house. The cousins. Former high school and college coaches. Neighbors. School friends. Almost everyone was there, including Zach’s Dilma. When Zach was born, his mother Lisa, who already had a 2-year-old daughter, worked for the telephone company. She turned to Gary, her father, and said, “I must have some help. “

Gary, who has spent much of his working life in Brazil, made a few calls in Brazil and found Dilma. Gary picked her up from Salt Lake International on Halloween night 21 years ago. She couldn’t speak English. Dilma became Zach’s beloved nanny. She loved herself by Zach and his family. It has been family. And then three years later, she got married.

The day she left the house, Zach was standing in the driveway, yelling, “Dilma, don’t go! Dilma, don’t go! Lisa finally said, “Zach, she married Mario. She will live with him in his house. Would you rather go live with them or stay with mom and dad? Zach thought about it for a moment and replied, “I think I’m going to go with Dilma.” “

Dilma and her new husband have moved to Tooele. She took a job at the convenience store owned by Zach’s dad, Mike. She remained in close contact with Zach and his family. She sent him notes after each of his matches and he sent her notes. He carries some of these notes in his wallet.

Dilma came to the party. “I’m so thrilled,” she told Gary.

So many people had helped Zach along the way, and Zach felt it keenly. When he decided to announce his decision to leave school early for the draft, he posted a lengthy memo online in which he thanked BYU coaches one by one. He brought BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar to Cincinnati for the draft, on his tab, among others. When BYU’s sports department employees showed up for work the following Monday, they found gifts from Zach – including autographed No.1 material. Oh, and he bought his mom a BMW as a surprise.

“He’s the kind of kid he is,” Gary says. “He likes to say, ‘I want to be humble and kind’. His mother said, ‘This is what he always has been and this is what he always will be. ”

The atmosphere in the draft group was grateful and friendly. Gary said to Sitake, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Zach,” and Sitake replied, “It’s the other way around; that’s what he did for us and for me personally and for the program.

It all happened so fast. During the offseason, Wilson has become the most talked about prospect in the country. His stock seemed to be increasing every week long after the end of the season. When the Jets traded their young quarterback from the future, everyone knew they were positioning themselves to take the BYU kid. Zach was signed as a client by the William Morris Endeavor agency, which represents a long list of movie stars, athletes, musicians, and more.

The companies have called for hiring Zach as a spokesperson. He made a deal with Traeger Grills. He made a deal with Nike. Gary says a representative from a bug extermination company offered him $ 35,000 just to wear one of his hats. His agency said no.

Then Zach flew to the draft and the Jets. They showed him the team facilities and the city. According to Gary, shortly after the draft, Zach received a phone call from Jets coach Robert Saleh, who told him, “You don’t have to think you have to get up because we’re going to get you. get up. If Zach was overwhelmed, he kept it to himself. After all the fuss over the Draft and the Big Apple, at one point Zach said to his grandfather, “I’m fine. I’m in good shape. I believe in them (Jets). I will do my best. “

Of course, Gary enjoys all of this hugely and, being a former journalist, enjoys reporting everything Zach has to his friends. When a reporter from Brazil’s biggest sports newspaper called Gary to interview him about Zach, he was happy to comply. “You don’t even play football in Brazil,” Gary said. The reporter replied: “The Brazilian connection is important to our readers. We want a story about Zach.

Gary served as a missionary in Brazil for three years before taking a job there as a correspondent for the UPI. Three of his seven children were born in Brazil. He visited Brazil several times a year for almost 30 years as vice president for Latin America for UPI. Gary spoke to the reporter for an hour, in Portuguese.

“There are a lot of Brazilians in New York,” says Gary. “There is now a Jets fan base in Brazil.”

Gary and Rose have been there every step of Zach’s footballing career and if Zach has what he wants, they’ll be there when he steps onto an NFL field. During the party, he said to Gary, “Grandpa, grandma and you are coming back.”

This time he won’t have to sit in the mud.

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