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Q&A: Former Eastern Washington and Cougars quarterback Gage Gubrud opens up about his Washington State experience

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 2, 2020

Before Gage Gubrud pursued a graduate transfer, he was considered one of the finest quarterbacks in the Football Championship Subdivision and likely headed for a professional career north of the border.

Gubrud starred at Eastern Washington, earning Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player distinction in a record-breaking career that included 11,026 yards and 87 touchdowns in just over two seasons as a starter

A season-ending toe injury early in Gubrud’s 2018 senior campaign led to a hardship waiver, and the NCAA later granted Gubrud a sixth year of eligibility.

Gubrud decided to leave Cheney and become the latest Big Sky quarterback to take a shot at the Pac-12, following in the footsteps of former EWU star Vernon Adams (2015) and Montana State’s Dakota Prukop (2016), who both transferred to Oregon their senior seasons.

After entering his name into the NCAA transfer portal, Gubrud was pursued by bigger schools looking for an experienced and decorated quarterback, including Washington State coach Mike Leach, who faced Gubrud twice.

Gubrud and EWU upset the Cougars 45-42 in 2016, where Gubrud totaled over 500 yards including the winning touchdown run in his first career start. Two years later, Gubrud struggled in a 59-24 loss at Martin Stadium.

Gubrud, who was initially preparing for a pro career before he was granted a sixth year, ultimately signed with Washington State, which was coming off its first 11-win season behind the arm of senior graduate transfer Gardner Minshew.

Many pundits had penciled in Gubrud as the Cougars’ 2019 starter when WSU announced his commitment.

But when Gubrud got to Pullman last spring, he quickly injured his ankle and missed live reps throughout spring camp. In August, he lost the starting job to Anthony Gordon, a fifth-year senior who went on to break WSU and Pac-12 records and lead the nation in passing with 5,579 yards, 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Gubrud was glued to the sidelines during the Cougars’ disappointing 6-7 season, appearing in just two early-season blowouts of New Mexico State and Northern Colorado. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Gubrud, who still may pursue a Canadian Football League career, recently opened up about his Washington State experience.

The Spokesman-Review: Before you decided to pursue a sixth year, did you think your college football days were over?

Gage Gubrud: I was going to pursue a professional career and sign with an agent. Then the whole grad transfer thing came up. I would have been going into my pro day training coming off an injury and not completely healthy. And after not finishing my senior season, the graduate transfer option began to look really appealing.

S-R: So you knew your days at the FCS level were over?

GG: Yeah, I wanted to pursue a Power 5 program or a team like Boise State, or even back East. I would have never gone to a different FCS program.

S-R: But when you went down early in 2018 and a young backup – Eric Barriere – took over and helped lead EWU to the FCS national title game, you had no desire to return to EWU and get your job back?

GG: I put some thought into that, but it was one of those things where I wanted to try and play at a higher level. I felt like I was done at Eastern, whether it was to try and to play professionally or in college at a higher level. I had said to myself in the past that I never would be the guy to pursue a graduate transfer, but I felt this situation was different because I wasn’t leaving EWU with a quarterback problem. They had a good quarterback and other good quarterbacks. I was ready for a new chapter.

S-R: And then when you went to Pullman to begin spring drills, you immediately get hurt again.

GG: It was an ankle injury, a completely fluke thing that wasn’t related to my (2018) toe injury. I had literally just been cleared from my toe injury to begin spring drills, and I got hurt 5 minutes into them

S-R: You missed most of the spring because of your ankle and didn’t participate in any spring games. If you had more reps and played in those live games before entering fall camp, do you think that changes the outcome for you?

GG: Anytime you miss out on reps as a quarterback, that’s a big deal. That’s a hard question and one I’ve asked myself before. It sucked, but I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, this injury is ruining my chances here.’ It may have, but it’s one of those things we’ll never really know. I felt healthy at fall camp, I had no issues. There wasn’t anything that was making me play differently.

S-R: Not winning the starting job must have been tough, though. You set records at EWU and starred on a team that beat Washington State three seasons earlier. It appeared that you and Gordon were initially neck-and-neck in that battle in August, but then he beats you out and you rarely see the field in a losing season. Considering grad transfers don’t leave their previous school to hold a clipboard, what was that experience like for you?

GG: It wasn’t great. (Being a backup) is not the reason I wanted to be there. Anthony was a great quarterback and earned it. He stuck it out for four years and had to deal with two graduate transfers. One of them (Minshew) didn’t work out great for him and another one worked out great for him. You have to give Anthony some kudos there, but personally it was not a fun year as far as not being able to play. You kind of feel helpless. I wasn’t handling it very well at first, and then you figure out how to handle it and realize it’s not the worst thing in the world. People are going through a lot worse out there. I was definitely humbled by it, learned to cope with it. It was a good learning experience, to say the least.

S-R: Did you ever think there were situations where Leach could have utilized you when the Cougars’ offense was stalling, considering you’re more of a dual threat than Gordon?

GG: Leach has never wanted to play multiple quarterbacks. He did that with Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski sometimes, but that was when he didn’t think Luke was playing well or the team needed a little boost. He doesn’t really do the two-QB system, and I respect that. I think that’s a good way to go about it in most cases. Once he named Anthony the starter, I thought he might give me a shot still, but you have to let Anthony do his thing. You can’t name a guy a starter and not give him all the opportunities he needs to be successful. If I had any say in I’d say “Yeah, I can go in and do some stuff,” but that’s not what Mike Leach does. He’s a coach who sticks with what he does and if you don’t like it, so beit. He isn’t going to change just to make people happy.

S-R: Where were you on the depth chart as the season wore on? Fellow senior backup Trey Tinsley appeared in three games while you appeared in two.

GG: I really don’t know. I don’t know what the depth chart was, and (media) doesn’t know the depth chart. He names a starter and after that, you gotta figure it out yourself.

S-R: You had multiple head coaches and offensive coordinators in your five years at EWU, but Leach is a much different character. Were there highs? Were there lows? What were your last few months with Leach like?

GG: That’s an interesting question. I really don’t know what to say, but I’ll say this: He is a different head coach, unlike any other I’ve experienced or played for, and whether it’s good or bad depends on the person. He does things his way and it doesn’t matter what other people think. You can respect that about him.

S-R: Are you, like a few other former EWU quarterbacks, set on pursuing a career in the Canadian Football League?

GG: I’ve looked into it a little bit. I’m on a negotiation list with the British Columbia Lions, so I would have that in my back pocket. I’ve talked to guys like (former EWU standout and Montreal quarterback) Vernon Adams about it. But nothing is really for sure right now, especially after everything that’s happened. There’s a lot of different roads to take, and I’m trying to figure out which one to go down.

S-R: Did you lose any confidence at all because of this experience? A year ago you were still considered one of the best FCS quarterbacks in the country, and that typically translates to something in the pros. And even though you were a backup at WSU, you were behind the nation’s leader passer who set Pac-12 records.

GG: I haven’t lost confidence, but it will be a weird thing to start playing again. We can all respect Anthony. He’s a great quarterback, I think he’ll do well in his professional career. It’s one of those things where I had to stay there mentally as a backup. You have to keep throwing and keep doing things and be on my top of my game, because football might not be over for me.

S-R: Were you surprised EWU (7-5) missed the playoffs and finished the season unranked? Did you watch any of their games this season?

GG: I didn’t get to watch much because either the games weren’t televised or we were playing at the same time. It seemed like they were explosive but maybe a little inconsistent, which is an issue with new teams and any time you get a new offensive coordinator, because you’re learning new stuff. That happened in 2017 (when EWU went 7-4 and missed the playoffs), when we had a new coordinator. But they have some explosiveness, really good players. and the future is bright for them.

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