Editor’s note: This story, written by St. George News sports editor Andy Griffin, was originally published 11/19/13 on DesNews.com
ST. GEORGE — Wilstead is a baseball name. Randy Wilstead was an All-American at BYU. Judd Wilstead played for the Milwaukee Brewers. Even young Cole Wilstead, who is serving an LDS mission in the Philippines, played college baseball at UNLV before his church service.
But that’s where the little round ball turns into a larger, oblong one. Because Kody Wilstead loves football.
Pine View’s star quarterback, who has thrown for more yards in one season than any quarterback in Utah history save one (Jordan’s Alex Hart in 2009), is set to lead his team into Friday’s 3AA state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The numbers are surprising considering his gene pool. Dad Randy, uncle Judd and brother Cole all flourished in baseball. But while Kody was pretty good at America’s pastime, he is phenomenal at America’s passion, the game of football.
“I love football and I love being the guy that everyone counts on,” Kody said. “It used to be that whatever season it was was my favorite. But then I started playing quarterback and I liked having a bigger impact on the game.”
Wilstead credits former coach Rick Ence, who passed away two years ago, as the guy who helped him make the switch when he was in the seventh grade. Ray Hosner, Pine View’s head coach, was also instrumental in the move.
“We’ve known about what a great athlete he was way back since he was in third or fourth grade,” Hosner said. “We didn’t know how good he was until the seventh or eighth grade.”
With baseball taking a back seat, most folks would think Kody’s dad, Randy, would be upset. Not so, the elder Wilstead said.
“I’ve kind of started to dislike baseball,” said Randy, who was Pine View’s head baseball coach for several years. “There is so much negativity in baseball. I’ve seen it ruin kids. When I started to see Kody develop a passion for football, I was all in.”
Kody, who also stars in basketball for the Panthers, says he won’t play baseball this year.
“Baseball can really break people down,” said Kody, who pitched and played first base for Pine View. “My dad told me last year that he’d give me $1,000 if I’d quit baseball. I think he was serious. He had his checkbook out and everything.”
Despite the incentive, Kody did play baseball last season, but perhaps only because football was a bit unfulfilling last year. As a sophomore, Kody fractured his posterior malleolus and missed five games.
“That killed him,” Randy said. “He wanted so bad to be out there helping his teammates.”
Kody returned in time for the playoffs, though he looked rusty as the Panthers fell to Spanish Fork, 26-21. He had three interceptions.
“You wouldn’t believe how much it bothers Kody when he makes mistakes,” said Pine View offensive coordinator Scott Anderson. “One of the things he’s really improved on is accepting his mistakes, fighting through them and moving forward.”
Pine View’s semifinal win over Juan Diego last week was a perfect example. Wilstead fumbled late in the game, but was able to lead his team down the field for the game-tying score to force overtime.
“There will always be another chance to make up for mistakes,” Hosner said. “One of the things we teach is to not get too high and not get too low. Football’s not about emotion. Football is about execution.”
Emotion does play a big part in at least one aspect for Kody Wilstead. He lost his grandmother, Shirlee Wilstead, last December and it’s evident he misses her dearly.
“They were very close,” Randy Wilstead said. “They had a special relationship. He dedicates everything he does on the athletic field to her. He doesn’t want anyone to know, but when he scores a touchdown or throws a TD pass, he does a very discreet point up to heaven for his grandma.”
That’s a lot of pointing as Kody has thrown 35 TD passes this year and run for five more. But his biggest number is the massive amount of yardage the junior signal-caller has accumulated. Wilstead has 4,058 yards in 11 games. He needs 384 to break Hart’s 4-year-old record. That’s no stretch, since Wilstead averages 368.9 yards per game, also second only to Hart’s 2009 record of 370.2.
“He’s one of the best and I’ll tell you why: He’s 17 going on 30,” Anderson said. “He is so mature and very bright. He grasps things very quickly. And he’s the best pure passer I’ve ever coached.”
Anderson has a good list to compare, having coached Lance Pendleton at Dixie and James Lark, Nick Marinko and Alec Meacham at Pine View.
“The thing that’s so amazing is we’re talking about a very young man,” Anderson said. “He just turned 17 last week. He’s just now coming into his own. He’s so smart, I think he gets bored easily. We constantly need to challenge him with new stuff. He also thinks he’s 5-10 and runs a 4.3 40 when he’s actually 6-6 and runs an I don’t know 40.”
Anderson also said he thinks he knows why Wilstead is no longer a fan of baseball.
“Baseball has a lot of downtime,” he said. “Mentally, you have to keep motivating yourself. In football, you are constantly in the grind, being motivated with your game plan. There’s always something to go do. You’ve got to gut it up and get right back at it.”
The brainy Wilstead, a 4.0 student, has a quiet nature about him.
“A lot of people take his quiet reserve as being cocky and arrogant,” Randy said. “That’s so wrong. His heart is so big. He cares so much for others, not just in sports, but in life.”
Kody and his teammates have taken the task of winning Pine View its first state football title very seriously. In fact, all the talk of breaking the all-time passing record makes him a bit uncomfortable.
“That’s crazy about the record,” he said. “My friends have told me about it, but I just want to be holding that championship trophy on Friday.”
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