Look at him now: Washington St’s star QB began as a walk-on
PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Luke Falk didn’t draw a lot of interest coming out of high school in Logan, Utah.
At one point in his high school career, the quarterback seemed destined for Florida State, only to have that opportunity dissolve. In the end, his choices appeared to be Cornell, maybe Idaho and maybe Wyoming. Falk likely would have headed for the Ivy League if not for head coach Mike Leach’s arrival at Washington State.
Even then, there was no guarantee of a scholarship or even an opportunity when Falk arrived in Pullman in 2013 and was seventh on the depth chart as a walk-on.
“The biggest thing is they gave me an equal opportunity,” Falk said. “A fair shot to compete with guys on scholarship.”
“The stars kind of aligned here at Washington State,” he said.
For both Falk and the eighth-ranked Cougars.
Washington State (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) is on a roll behind Falk, including a big 30-27 win over Southern California two weeks ago and a 33-10 win over Oregon last weekend that put the Cougars into the Top 10.
Through it all, Falk has continued to raise eyebrows across the college football world. The senior is threatening to break nearly every major passing record in the Pac-12 Conference — surpassing names like Marcus Mariota, Matt Barkley, Jared Goff and Sean Mannion.
Through the first six games of this season, Falk has thrown for 2,000 yards with 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He is completing 71.8 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 12,893 yards with 108 touchdowns for his college career, setting school records for career TD passes, passing yardage and total offense. Falk is tied with Jason Gesser as the winningest quarterback in program history with 24 victories.
Falk also already holds Pac-12 records for pass completions and total plays and is the NCAA active leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He is closing on Pac-12 career touchdown leader Matt Barkley of USC, who threw for 116.
“He’s a special talent,” Oregon coach Willie Taggart said. “He’s a kid who’ll be playing on Sunday.”
Despite such accolades and ongoing Heisman talk, Falk remains a small-town boy who seems to fit in well in Pullman, which has only 30,000 residents — two-thirds of them Washington State students. He remains humble and approachable. He pauses to take selfies with fans. He still wears a battered baseball cap he bought his first day on campus.
He credits an embarrassing loss to FCS Portland State in 2015 with lighting a fire under the program.
Falk and the offense went silent during the first game of the 2015 season, and Portland State hung a 24-17 loss on the Cougars at home.
That could have knocked the program off the rails, but it didn’t, Falk said.
“We reset,” Falk said. “There was nothing we could have done about that game. It was in the past.”
The Cougars played at Rutgers next, and Falk threw for 478 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback victory.
Since that loss, the Cougars have gone 23-8.
“We still have rough patches,” Falk said. “But we’ve hit our step and hit our stride and played with confidence.”
Falk is the latest in a string of record-setting quarterbacks produced by Leach, an architect of the Air Raid offense.
The Air Raid is well-suited to Falk’s strengths, as he fires short passes all over the field. He doesn’t run much, he finds the open receiver in a crowd, and he’s tough enough to take the inevitable sacks.
He’s drawn the admiration of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“Their quarterback is so good,” Carroll said recently. “We’ve been watching them for years and just watching him pull himself off the carpet so many times after getting pounded, and just hanging in there. He’s a fantastic football player.”
Falk follows a long line of great quarterbacks to make their way through Pullman, a list that includes Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf and Gesser. Yet none of them were asked to run a system as intricate as Leach’s, which is why the coach regularly praises his quarterback for his smarts and comprehension.
“He’s a constant achiever,” Leach said recently.
Falk has also evolved.
“He’s becoming more of a vocal leader,” said running back Jamal Morrow. “He’s calm and relaxed.”
Falk is now considered a top NFL quarterback prospect for the 2018 draft after passing on a chance to leave after his junior season.
But hints of that long-ago walk-on remain. So don’t expect him to give up that sweat-stained Washington State hat anytime soon.
“I take that hat everywhere,” Falk said. “My mom hates that hat, but I love that hat. It’s a good reminder and I like the way it fits me.”
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