First off, this is no way an insinuation that the current redshirt frosh QB, Marshall Lobbestael, is on the same path followed by the greatest #17 in school history, Jason Gesser. But in perusing this week's press release, something caught my eye and made me think back a few years, to when Jason Gesser first broke onto the scene. Believe it or not, there are some parallels to 2008 compared to 1999. Consider:
- In '99, Steve Birnbaum was the established player, a senior QB who was getting a final shot at this thing. Birnbaum, you'll remember, took over for Ryan Leaf in 1998 and struggled in leading the Cougs to a 3-8 season. Birnbaum did the best he could, but never really put it all together. He does hold the record for the longest TD in WSU history, a 97-yard pass to Nian Taylor vs. Idaho in 1998. But that's pretty much the highlight of highlights for #13. Not much happened in '99 either, as the team would slog through a 3-9 season.
- QB Paul Mencke was a junior in 1999, and had a rather undistinguished QB career. Mencke would share some time with Birnbaum, but never was able to grab the job. Mencke would set a WSU record for interceptions, tossing six in one game. But that's about all you'll find or remember about Mencke.
- And then you had the frosh, Jason Gesser. A lot of buzz, some whispers about his leadership, and some people in and around the program who thought the kid had "it". Not top-shelf talent, not blessed with monster size and strength or fantastic quickness. But just something about him, his leadership and competitiveness, his winning ways back to high school where he never lost a game, people just knew he would be a winner. '99 saw them all split time, but Gesser never actually started a game until the end of the season, at Hawaii. '99 was a miserable season, a 3-9 year that saw them beat only Cal in the Pac-10, and something else called Louisiana-Lafayette. But then, that last game of the year, at Hawaii.
Gesser would get the start, and this was against a good Hawaii team to boot, a 9-win bowl Hawaii team in June Jones' first season on the island. Gesser would lead the Cougs to a 22-14 win, taking some repeated blows from the Hawaii defense in the process. That game was considered the defining moment to the start of Gesser's career.
Don't take my word for it. Check out Washington State Magazine's look back to that game:
He sometimes seemed fragile, but he was always throwing his body at yard-markers, at safeties, at whatever got in his way. He and others recall his defining moments as late in that freshman season of 1999, when he had a bad thumb but led a team of meager capability to a victory at Hawaii.On one play, he dove for the chains and in his words, "got cleaned in the ribs." Wincing back to the huddle, he had established a tone. Safety Billy Newman told him that from that moment forward, everybody in the program knew that nothing less than a best effort would do.
So where does that leave us with "Ocho Rojo" (Eight Red), Marshall Lobbestael? I know, I know, it's one game over a non-BCS opponent. He only played in the second half. There is a great unknown for how he's going to handle things going forward. And many one-time wonders have been named Pac-10 player of the week, as success can be just so fleeting. But Lobbestael has been special in his past. Such as his bio from Scout.com:
Has a quick release, outstanding accuracy and tremendous poise. Named 2006 state Class 4A Player of the Year by the Associated Press and Seattle Times after leading Oak Harbor to its first-ever state championship game. Passed for 34 touchdowns and 2,776 yards on the season.The exciting thing in all this is that, two weeks ago, the QB conundrum was a tough one. Here was one QB in Rogers, a senior, who was clearly struggling to pick things up. But even if Rogers stayed healthy and had a decent year, where would that put the program for the future? Would his success hold back the development of another?
His prep coach, Dave Ward, says that from the time Lobbestael started as a sophomore that he knew he was coaching a Pac-10-caliber quarterback: "Marshall is the best quarterback, the best leader, the best passer, the best player I've ever coached," he says.
Burst onto the recruiting radar early in the season against Meadowdale when he completed 18 of 22 passes and a school-record six touchdowns passes (breaking a record set by his older brother John). As a junior in 2005, Lobbestael earned second-team all-conference honors, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,351 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The other QB, Lopina, showed a little more success than Rogers, but really not by much. Lopina might be viewed as the better fit in terms of the short passing game and more mobility, but he's also shown a penchant for the interception, now five in just about two games of playing time. But Lopina is a junior, so even if he does flat-out grab the job, it still might be a full season of lumps before he could really click in 2009. But then he'd be a senior, and the clock would be ticking. Would his success hold back the development of another?
But now, due to injury, here's Lobbestael, a redshirt-frosh with so much ahead of him. He is something to build around, something tangible to point to in the future. He's been a success in his high school career, a leader and a winner who won a state title. Most of all, a down season can be turned into something at least somewhat positive if the down times are learning experiences for a very young program, a very young QB and leader the team can rally around. Just like 1999.
One more thing - if Mike Price had it to do over again, he would have given Jason Gesser more starts in that lousy 1999 season. Gesser would have to learn under fire in 2000, but by then he was already a sophomore. He would have some high points in 2000, such as a win at Utah and at Cal. He would also put up some big numbers in a couple of OT losses to Arizona and ASU. But Gesser would be lost to a broken leg at Oregon State late in the year. So really, it wasn't until 2001, Gesser's junior season, before he really put it together, and would lead us on the best two-year run in school history. But again, if Price could do it all over again, he would have used that frosh year to put him into the fire and take the lumps while also getting him true playing experience. Maybe 2000 could have been another story in his sophomore year. Maybe those OT losses could have been victories, and a 4-7 season could have been a 6-5, bowl-eligible year?
Anyway, just something to chew on for the rest of 2008. With Rogers now done for his senior year, and Lopina already bruised and battered, it sure doesn't seem like a bad idea now to give the ball to EIGHT RED and see what shakes. At this point, what do they have to LOSE?