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Sporting a hat with an "NP" sticker on it, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson continues to keep the memories of his former childhood friend with him.
Those ties are particularly strong this week as the Utes (3-1, 0-1) prepare to play No. 12 UCLA (3-0, 0-0), the team for which his friend, Nick Pasquale, played until he was fatally struck by a car on Sept 8.
Wilson, who played football with the receiver since the two were 6-years-old, said Thursday's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium would be an emotional one for him.
"It's going to hurt not seeing him after the game," Wilson said.
Even though the Utes are playing Pasquale's former team, Wilson said he is still playing for his friend and his family members, with whom he reconnected when he attended Pasquale's funeral in San Clemente, Calif.
"I've stayed in touch with them and made sure they know I am playing for them and also Nick," he said. "I want them to know that."
UCLA honored the receiver by running its first play against New Mexico State with just 10 players.
Wilson believes playing as well as he possibly can is the best way to honor his former friend, who had a reputation for always working hard and overcoming odds.
While Wilson was a highly recruited quarterback, Pasquale was a walk-on with the Bruins who slowly was working his way up the depth chart. That he was earning more looks didn't surprise Wilson.
"Nick was a tremendous athlete in high school," Wilson said. "I remember him playing good defense and giving the biggest hits I've seen. He was only 5-foot-7, but he had the biggest heart I've seen."
Pasquale no doubt would be proud of the growth Wilson has made as a quarterback. He made his first collegiate start against the Bruins last year, going 23-of-33 for 220 yards in the Utes' 21-14 loss.
Wilson said he recently watched that game and noted how unsure and skittish he was.
"I've learned to be a lot more confident and more sure of where to throw the ball," he said. "From that game and playing this season, it's a totally different feeling."
Wilson is 6-5 as a starter and ranks 15th nationally in both passing efficiency (166.6) and yards per completion (15.11).
UCLA at Utah
P Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1