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Near-miss Cougar

Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson tossed 21 touchdown passes and has Rams in first bowl game since 2008. (Associated Press)
Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson tossed 21 touchdown passes and has Rams in first bowl game since 2008. (Associated Press)

Colorado State QB passed up chance to play defensive back at WSU

Back in 2011, Garrett Grayson had a chance to be a member of the Washington State defensive backfield. The quarterback passed on WSU’s offer to play safety, and will try to pass all over the Cougars secondary on Saturday.

It would have been a natural fit, given that his uncle, Dan Grayson, was an All-America linebacker at WSU in the early 1990s.

“He always says he was going to try and work things for WSU because he wanted me to go there but I’m happy I’m here,” Grayson said.

Now at Colorado State, the junior quarterback will finally have a chance to show WSU fans his ability as a passer when the Rams face WSU in the New Mexico Bowl.

Already this season Grayson has thrown for 3,327 yards while completing 62 percent of his passes. His receivers have found the end zone 21 times and he’s thrown just 10 interceptions.

“He’s a gunslinger. He doesn’t make too many mistakes,” WSU All-America safety Deone Bucannon said.

Most importantly, Grayson has led CSU (7-6, 5-3 Mountain West) to its first bowl game since 2008. Those who know him best aren’t surprised that the prolific quarterback raised his team above its typical level of play. He’s been doing that since high school.

Grayson is a native of Washington state, and attended Heritage High School in Vancouver. Not known for being a football powerhouse, Heritage has won just four games over the past two seasons. But the Timberwolves had something to cheer for in Grayson, who led the team to a 7-3 record as a sophomore.

He went on to pass for over 10,000 yards in his prep career and led the nation as a senior by completing 73 percent of his passes.

“Heritage is a great school but the football program has struggled,” said Nate Becksted, the Heritage football coach when Grayson was there. “They had a couple good years and it’s been a struggling program that continues to struggle today. So, Garrett was sort of there in a stretch that coincided with some success at Heritage and Garrett was a big part of that.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to attract the attention of major college recruiters. Or, rather, it was enough to attract their attention, but there was little they could do about it. According to Becksted, Grayson was a victim of circumstance.

“That was the same year Jake Heaps came out of Skyline and was considered maybe the best quarterback in the country,” Becksted said. “The kid from Spokane, (Connor) Halliday, is at Washington State and doing some amazing things. So people didn’t believe there could be that many quarterbacks in a state that doesn’t produce that many Division I kids.”

Coaches like Boise State’s Justin Wilcox (now at Washington) and Washington’s Doug Nussmeier (now at Alabama) called in 2011 to express how impressed they were with Grayson. The trouble was all those schools had accepted commitments from quarterbacks atypically early, often during their junior years of high school.

Grayson started to get noticed toward the end of his junior year, and reaffirmed his abilities over the summer by winning MVP among quarterbacks at the prestigious Nike Combine in Eugene, Ore., and putting up the top SPARQ rating, which measures athleticism. But even then, before his senior season of high school had started, was too late for the Pac-12 schools.

The schools weren’t selfish, however, and many of the coaching staffs offered to use their extensive networks to help Grayson get recruited.

“It was all kind of a jumbled mess at that point,” Grayson’s mother, Jody, said. “But there were several schools that did help get the word out and actually notified Colorado State that he was out there and available.”

In fact, the coaching staff at WSU – which has since departed with the 2011 firing of head coach Paul Wulff – was instrumental in helping their former safety prospect find a home at CSU.

“They’re kind of the ones that got me through the whole thing, got my name out there,” Grayson said. “I knew a few coaches personally on the staff so they kind of got me going with the whole recruiting process and I’m thankful for it.”

After the assist from his future opponents, the 6-2, 220-pound quarterback used a “grayshirt” year, spending his autumn training in Texas with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Ty Detmer before enrolling at CSU in the spring.

It’s been a circuitous path back to WSU for Grayson, and though neither family ties nor the chance to play defense made him a Cougar, he couldn’t escape the Crim- son and Gray. Because he led the Rams to a bowl game, he will have no choice but to play quar- terback in front of the WSU faithful. They’ll just be cheering against him.