PULLMAN – When Anthony Gordon arrived at Washington State in 2016, he was unsure what type of relationship he’d forge with Trey Tinsley, another quarterback who’d taken a similar path to the Palouse and also had exactly four years to win over Mike Leach with his right arm.
Maybe they’d tolerate one another. Maybe they’d be cordial. Or maybe they’d be neither.
That they’d eventually become two peas in a pod? Even Gordon admits he never thought that was in the cards.
“We’ve gone against each other for years and when I first showed up here, kind of funny, I was like, ‘I wonder how this is going to go trying to be friends with somebody I’m competing against the next four years,’ ” the QB said Tuesday. “But Trey’s an awesome dude, great friend, great teammate.”
Now, one of them is the nation’s leading passer, while the other holds a much less glorious title: backup to the nation’s leading passer.
One of the two is on track to break school and conference records for passing yards and touchdowns. The other has spent his final season idling on the sideline, a ball cap covering his head instead of a helmet, a clipboard in his hands rather than a football.
Gordon will have a chance to parlay his prolific senior year into an NFL career. Tinsley isn’t guaranteed another snap of competitive football this season, let alone the rest of his life.
But not even that has splintered their relationship.
Gordon continues to pick apart Pac-12 defenses with as much success as any quarterback in the conference. Tinsley’s been in his corner every step of the way – the first to bump his fist after a touchdown and the first to offer Gordon insight after an interception.
“It shows that his actions align with his words,” Gordon said. “He’s a good teammate through and through, and it’s something he’s always said. … So he’s stuck true to his words and I’m happy for him. Selfishly, I’m happy for him. I know he’s got some football left in him and he definitely could’ve played, but I’m happy he’s here and helping me out.”
Gordon and Tinsley fought for WSU’s starting quarterback job in the spring of 2018, before Gardner Minshew showed up in the fall and beat out both. This past spring, Gordon and Tinsley were at it again, trading blows while Eastern Washington grad transfer Gage Gubrud recovered from a foot injury.
The duel for QB1 continued into the fall, with Gordon, Tinsley and Gubrud splitting reps evenly – Gordon and Tinsley one day, Gubrud and Tinsley the next, Gordon and Gubrud the day after that. That rotation persisted until the third week of preseason camp, when Leach, needing to whittle the competition down to two players but still wanting to see more of Gubrud, made a tough decision to cut out Tinsley.
Gordon outplayed Gubrud and hasn’t looked back since, rolling up 3,387 yards, 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions through eight games. He needs 1,392 yards – an average of 348 per game – to break Minshew’s single-season Pac-12 record and only 11 touchdowns to match Jake Browning’s single-season record of 43.
Had Tinsley won the job, he may have been gunning for some of that glory himself.
“Because Trey’s talented enough to start for most teams in this conference,” Leach said Monday.
But that isn’t Tinsley’s reality. He and Gubrud are sharing backup duties, so even if Gordon goes down with an injury, there’s a chance he’s thrown the last meaningful passes of his career.
Tinsley has accepted another role and thrived in it.
“Tinsley knows the offense backward and forward. He’s a very sharp guy,” Leach said. “We do have Tinsley on the sideline looking for the things on the field, because he’s good at being conscious of it, but just real smart about how things are supposed to unfold.”
Even if he isn’t throwing passes, Tinsley still has a bright future in football, Leach maintains.
“I think Tinsley’s going to be a really good coach someday,” he said.
Leach knows better than anyone it doesn’t take a premier college player to make a successful college coach. He hung up his own cleats after a mediocre playing career at Cody High School in Wyoming.
“The second I met Trey, maybe not the second I met him but throughout our time getting to know each other, he kind of asked what we want to do when we’re done and stuff,” Gordon said. “And I asked him if he wanted to be a coach and no hesitation, he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can totally see it, no doubt.’ ”
In Tinsley’s position, it may have been easy to go through the motions, lose interest, or disengage while his good friend and teammate grabs one headline after another.
Instead, QB2 took the harder route.
“I just have a tremendous amount of respect for his commitment and what he does,” Leach said. “I think there’s a lot of intangible things as far as the locker room, holding the locker room and just being a good example, like I say, of what a teammate is and what it means to be on a team. I think Trey personifies that.”
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