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Gardner Minshew returns to Washington State amid much fanfare ahead of UCLA clash

Former Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew smiles as he fields questions from the media during an appearance before the start of the game on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Children peeked around nearby adults, or if that didn’t work, they hopped in the air, waiting for the first look at Gardner Minshew donning crimson once more.

When the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback emerged 2 hours before kickoff, people of all ages held their phones high, capturing his advance across Cougville to take his seat – on a folding chair, next to the Coaches’ Trophy, which, like Minshew, paid Pullman a visit on Saturday.

By then, the photo line had been building and was wrapped two full lengths across the practice field. A few fans donned Jaguars jerseys. Others sported a mustache, the signature feature of the former Cougars quarterback.

“They took me in on such short notice and really made it feel like home to me,” Minshew told the assembled media, pressed in upon by fans. “I feel like I owe it to them to be here and see everybody.”

Minshew’s trip was a brief one. After the Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night – Minshew’s first victory as an NFL starting quarterback – he made his way to Pullman on Saturday morning and will head back south on Sunday.

He wore a crimson Cougars baseball jersey, jean shorts raggedly cut off mid-thigh, a black headband and aviator sunglasses. Fans from the line took their turn taking a photo with him and the touring American Football Coaches Association Coaches’ Trophy, presented each year to the team that finishes first in the Amway Coaches’ Poll. Then, Minshew helped raise the flag at Martin Stadium before the Cougars and Bruins kicked off.

One of two former Cougars quarterbacks atop NFL depth charts – Luke Falk, Minshew’s predecessor, is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday for the New York Jets – Minshew also praised the play of senior Anthony Gordon, his successor as WSU quarterback.

“Gordo’s ballin’, man; I’m so happy for him,” Minshew said. “So happy for the team and how they’re doing. I expect big things from them going forward.”

He repeatedly mentioned the support people gave him during his short stint in Pullman and the support he continues to receive from the Palouse. He referred to himself as “a stray dog” who came to town without a home.

“The way they adopted me from the first game on, it was special, and the season we had together, there’s nothing like it,” he said, referring to the Cougars’ only 11-win campaign in program history. “The most fun season I’ve had in football ever.”

Theo Lawson

Minshew was named the Jaguars’ backup quarterback during training camp and was thrust into playing time in Jacksonville’s first game, when Nick Foles broke his left clavicle. Foles is on injured reserve and could return for Week 11, at the earliest.

“One of the best people I’ve ever been around,” Minshew said of Foles. “He’s supported me every step of the way.”

In three games so far, Minshew has completed 65 of 88 pass attempts, the third-best completion percentage (73.9) in the league, and has thrown for five touchdowns against one interception.

“It’s awesome being back here,” he said. “Any time I can get back, I’m gonna get back.”