Min­shew took wind­ing path to land his star­ring role at WSU

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY CHUCK CULPEPPER The Wash­ing­ton Post

The peo­ple of Bran­don, Mis­sis­sippi, have wound up with their sleep pat­terns se­ri­ally dis­rupted. The peo­ple in an of­fice in Colorado Springs have en­joyed an­other case of we-knew-al­la­long. The peo­ple around Pull­man have taken to wear­ing fake mus­taches to games.

From time zone to time zone to time zone, a Mr. Gard­ner Flint Min­shew II of Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi again and North Carolina and Wash­ing­ton, the state, has be­come the na­tion’s lead­ing passer by yardage (3,517) and yards per game

(390.8) as well as an em­blem. He epit­o­mizes the mo­bil­ity of the Amer­i­can col­lege foot­ball player, es­pe­cially the quar­ter­back, circa

2018.

He ex­udes com­fort in his own skin, ex­tols Wash­ing­ton State’s nu­mer­ous re­ceivers with­out sound­ing phony about it, wears his mir­rored sun­glasses to postgame gabs with re­porters and told those re­porters, af­ter the Utah game this sea­son, “I’m a big Fitz­Magic guy. Yeah. He’s a grinder, and he has a lot of swag. So that’s what I’m try­ing to do here.”

Asked if he could match the con­sid­er­able Fitz­Magic beard of Ryan Fitz­patrick, the Tampa Bay quar­ter­back, Min­shew then said, “No, that’d take about a hun­dred years.” So he has con­quered the ter­rain of the mus­tache, which has proved plenty lush. It doesn’t hurt that he of­ten an­swers ques­tions with the con­vivial use of the word “man,” as af­ter the Stan­ford game of Oct. 27 when he said, “Man, this team’s just come to­gether so well, man.”

He joins a gen­er­a­tion for whom the world’s third-largest coun­try is pretty much a neigh­bor­hood. He fin­ished high school in Bran­don, Mis­sis­sippi – and never did lose to Pearl while there! – and went to Troy in Alabama. He saw the writ­ing on the depth-chart wall there and went to North­west Mis­sis­sippi Com­mu­nity Col­lege. He helped win a na­tional cham­pi­onship there and went to East Carolina. He played two sea­sons there, threw for 3,487 yards in 17 ap­pear­ances, grad­u­ated and com­mit­ted to Alabama. He got a call from that noted Pa­cific North­west sci­en­tist, Wash­ing­ton State coach Mike Leach, who asked if Min­shew wouldn’t mind lead­ing the na­tion in pass­ing, where­upon Min­shew switched from Tuscaloosa to the Palouse.

In nine games as the Cougars have gone from an Au­gust puzzle of new faces to a November top-10 pres­ence at 8-1 and No. 8, Min­shew has thrown the ball a de­lec­ta­ble 465 times, 77 more than the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion’s next-most fre­quent thrower. Some 329 of those passes have gone into the grasp of oth­ers - in fact, many oth­ers. Thir­teen Cougars team­mates have caught them, a whop­ping

10 have caught them in dou­ble dig­its and four – James Wil­liams, Davon­tavean Martin, Dez­mon Pat­mon and Ea­sop Win­ston Jr. – have caught more than 40.

Every­body’s hav­ing more fun than the rest of us.

That in­cludes many the

23,000 or so peo­ple of Bran­don, Mis­sis­sippi, about 14 driv­ing miles east of Jack­son, or

1,748 air miles south­east and

2,285 driv­ing miles south­east of Pull­man. They’ve taken to eye­balling Wash­ing­ton State, even through the chal­leng­ing Pa­cific time zone kick­off times that come about rou­tinely.

“There’s been a few peo­ple miss­ing church on Sun­days, there’s no doubt about that,” said Bryan Mar­shall, the prin­ci­pal of Bran­don High School. He also said, “Most folks here go to bed around 10:30, 11 o’clock.” And he also said, “Of course, our older crowd, they’ll watch till half­time and just can’t take any­more.”

For Home­com­ing in late Septem­ber this year, Bran­don held a game in its con­sid­er­able sta­dium, then the play­ers fin­ished and went to the dance, while Mar­shall, some coaches and some boost­ers did what seemed the thing to do: They fired up the TV on the jumbo score­board and stood watch­ing Wash­ing­ton State play South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“To be hon­est with you,” Mar­shall said, “when Pac-12 games were on, we used to just turn them off. Now, I think every­body around here knows ev­ery­thing about the Pac-12.”

He mar­veled that Wash­ing­ton State could have never imag­ined “a lot of view­er­ship from Bran­don, Mis­sis­sippi,” but that nowa­days, its Bran­don rat­ings have gone “through the roof.”

Their for­mer quar­ter­back al­ready toured Mis­sis­sippi mean­ing­fully, both 185 miles north of Bran­don and 145 miles south­east, as part of the state’s rich ju­nior-col­lege cul­ture with its 14 Mis­sis­sippi As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity and Ju­nior Col­leges teams, in towns such as Scooba, Se­na­to­bia, Po­plarville and Booneville. Up north in Se­na­to­bia, he quar­ter­backed North­west Mis­sis­sippi to the 2015 NJCAA ti­tle game. Down south in Biloxi, he and North­west won it over Rochester Com­mu­nity and Tech­ni­cal Col­lege (Min­nesota), by 66-13, at Biloxi High School.

That came six years af­ter, for ex­am­ple, Blinn Col­lege of Bren­ham, Texas, won that ti­tle be­hind quar­ter­back Cam New­ton.

“Oh, I mean, it does won­ders for us” when a player goes from ju­nior col­lege to the big­ger light

stan­chions, said Ricky Web­ster at the NJCAA of­fices in Colorado Springs. They go from a lack of at­ten­tion to a sur­feit, and Web­ster said, “Ev­ery­one makes a big deal. We kind of look at it as, ‘We knew all along.’ ”

They revel when a player such as New Or­leans Saints star Alvin Ka­mara talks pub­licly of the value of spend­ing a year among the Hutchin­son (Kansas) Com­mu­nity Col­lege Blue Drag­ons. The cur­rent start­ing quar­ter­backs at Ken­tucky and Vir­ginia, for two ex­am­ples, both coursed through ju­nior col­lege.

The case of Min­shew has demon­strated the pos­si­bil­ity of be­com­ing a sen­sa­tion in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent re­gion, all while ap­par­ently re­frain­ing from jerk-dom, see­ing how no­mads tend to be good at mesh­ing. “One of the best things he did was bond and iden­tify with the team,” Leach said on the Pac-12 Net­work. “He be­came a reg­u­lar guy in our team early, which I think is extremely im­por­tant, ‘cause there’s no time to be shy. There’s no time to be aloof.”

On Oct. 20, Pull­man had it­self a big smash of a time with a quar­ter­back it never an­tic­i­pated when that bas­tion of re­flected le­git­i­macy, ESPN’s “Col­lege GameDay,” came to town, and Ore­gon came to town, and Ore­gon left town glum. Then the son of a for­mer bas­ket­ball player (mother) and a for­mer Mill­saps Col­lege (Mis­sis­sippi) foot­ball hall of famer (fa­ther), a per­son only 22 who has thrown foot­balls for real in three of the four con­ti­nen­tal time zones and driven through the other to reach the lat­est, said: “It was in­cred­i­ble, man. There was so much en­ergy in town this week. We knew we were go­ing to have to ball that up and use it.”

And: “And then af­ter the game I just started to think, Man, I think I made the right choice com­ing here, man.”

YOUNG KWAK AP

Wash­ing­ton State quar­ter­back Gard­ner Min­shew II is the na­tion’s lead­ing passer with 3,517 yards. He has 27 TD passes and seven in­ter­cep­tions.

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