PULLMAN – Marshall Lobbestael has been in this position before. But not really.
This week, the 22-year-old right-hander with the tightly cropped red hair will start at quarterback for Washington State.
He’s done it before. Six times.
But that was a different Marshall Lobbestael. A younger version. This is Lobbestael 5.0. A fifth-year senior who has been to the mountaintop, trudged through the valleys and reached the promised land, only to discover someone was already there.
And then realize it was OK. The journey was what mattered. And what made him what he is today.
“He’s just become such a quality individual,” says his coach, Paul Wulff, who watched Lobbestael struggle through those starts split between his years as a redshirt freshman – a season that ended with a torn ACL in his left knee – and sophomore.
“That’s our big thing. Here (it’s) about being a great person first before you’re a great player,” Wulff adds. “He exemplifies that.
“I see a more stable individual, a more respected player, and somebody who has been through a lot. He’s highly respected and our team is going to respond very well.”
Lobbestael is stepping into the quarterback spot Saturday against UNLV because usual starter – and friend – Jeff Tuel is out for the next few weeks with a broken collarbone. It’s not the way Lobbestael wanted to return to the limelight, but he feels he’s ready.
“I’ve always understood a team needs two good quarterbacks,” he says. “I just wanted to be that second guy.”
But it was a long road getting to that point.
Lobbestael came to WSU after leading Oak Harbor High to the Washington State 4A title and earning All-State honors.
A redshirt year was followed by a change in coaches. Three starts the next season were unproductive and, ultimately, physically damaging, when an Oregon State lineman rolled up his knee.
Rehab was painful and slow, the offseason marred by a well-publicized alcohol citation issued outside the Pullman police station. Wearing a large knee brace, he was able to play the next season, but he was slow, unsteady and, once again, unproductive.
“I think I got away from who I was as a player,” he says. “I play the game with a lot of passion and sometimes I just have to let my instincts kick in and go play football.”
After two seasons he had thrown 247 passes, with just 110 caught by his teammates and 12 by the other guys. And Tuel, two years younger, was the entrenched starter. Was it time to leave?
“When Jeff took over, I talked with Jack Thompson a little bit and he told me, ‘whatever you do, do it with class,’ “ Lobbestael says, mentioning the Cougar legend who was not only was a great quarterback but was also his mentor and father to Lobbestael’s good friend, Tony.
“That stuck with me. I thought about it throughout all my thoughts about (leaving).”
And he did think about it. But love, as it often does in these cases, guided his course.
“I talked with my parents about it a couple times, just ‘what ifs,’” he says. “It always came back to I love Pullman, I love WSU, I love being a Coug, I want to be a Coug for the rest of my life. I met a ton of lifelong friends here. This is a special place.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs here but I wanted to stay here and finish my memories.”
So last year he watched as Tuel put together one of the better seasons passing a WSU sophomore ever had. Playing time was rare, starting a fading memory. But Lobbestael was at peace.
“If I had to get passed up by anyone, it would be Jeff,” Lobbestael says. “He’s a great guy, a great team guy. We have a great friendship.”
“He’s more than just a teammate, he’s more than just a friend,” Tuel says. “He’s just a good all-around guy. I’m excited for him to see what he’s going to do.”
What Tuel did last year was make the team better, though the 2-10 record doesn’t look all that much brighter than the 2-11 and 1-11 seasons before. But the Cougars competed, especially down the stretch.
That led to a confident attitude going into the season opener against Idaho State last Saturday. Until Tuel woke up fighting a flu bug. And losing.
Lobbestael, Tuel’s roomie, gathered the quarterbacks together and tried to help Tuel get ready. The training staff got involved. An hour before kick off, Lobbestael was told he would be starting, though Tuel was feeling better.
“It was kind of fun just finding out when I did,” Lobbestael says, though adding the circumstances could have been better. And they were about to get worse.
After Lobbestael led WSU to two quick touchdowns – he would finish 14 of 19 with two touchdown tosses and 230 yards, just off his career best – Tuel was feeling well enough to go in. A scramble down near the goal line netted zero yards and one broken collarbone.
After the 64-21 win, the job was once again Lobbestael’s.
A daunting task? Maybe for the Lobbestael of 2008 and 2009.
“When I was younger I was concentrating so much on film I was prepared, but it was more of an analytical sense than a functional sense,” he says. “Now, I’m not so wrapped up in ‘OK, if this guy’s here, I have to go here.’ I can relax and realize I recognize this, I just have to react.”
And his teammates have reacted well to him.
“Everyone knows how much Marsh cares, he works so hard,” says receiver Jared Karstetter. “Marsh just wants to see the fruits of his labor. We all do.”
That fruit is easy to define, for Lobbestael at least.
“A win,” he says. “I want to play well, sure, but a win. If we run 60 times, fine. I just want to win.
“I want to just help the team,” Lobbestael continues. “I want to do my part. I’m not nervous, I’m excited. If you probably asked me a couple years ago, I probably would have said, ‘yeah, I’m nervous.’ It’s different now. I’m not nervous about what I’m going to do.”