PULLMAN — The past and future of the Washington State football program collided during Tuesday’s spring practice. Under the shadow of the daunting but not yet completed Football Operations Building former WSU quarterback Jason Gesser watched the young Cougars practice.
“It’s awesome,” Gesser said of WSU’s contribution to college football’s facilities revolution. “It’s a different feel with all the construction going up, obviously the new press box and the new football facility there. It’s a different feel from the inside (of Martin Stadium), you know? But it’s a cool feeling at the same time.”
Gesser’s been where the Cougars want to be, leading WSU to the Rose Bowl in 2002 and was named the Co-Offensive Player of the Year. After briskly rising through the high school and college coaching ranks Gesser, who coached quarterbacks, was caught up in the recent coaching turnover at Wyoming.
Now Gesser is back in Pullman and taking advantage of a standing offer from WSU coach Mike Leach to watch as the present WSU football team tries to emulate his past in the near future.
“He’s a sharp mind and a good guy and a big part of the legacy of Washington State,” Leach said. “So I think all of our players are excited to have Jason out here and excited to see him out on the field.”
Naturally, Gesser spent most of practice watching and chatting with the quarterbacks, particularly Connor Halliday whom he has known since the Cougars’ starter was in high school.
Though Gesser technically can’t provide much insight to any of the players due to NCAA limits on the number of coaches a team may have, he’s quick with an encouraging word or reminder.
“I’ve been lucky,” Halliday said. “First we had (former Leach quarterback at Texas Tech) Graham Harrell come through this weekend, and it was cool to see him. Then Gesser comes out; I’m privileged.”
According to Gesser, Halliday has made notable strides since the middle of last season, particularly in his fundamentals. That’s appeared true in the first three spring practices with Halliday’s consistency and accuracy far outpacing the younger quarterbacks on the roster.
In one drill on Tuesday – the first day WSU could practice in shoulder pads – Halliday completed a pass to a receiver in the corner of the end zone on three consecutive throws, despite tight coverage in every repetition.
“He’s got a good arm, he’s got a good release, good anticipation but when he gets lazy with his feet is when he sees his accuracy go down,” Gesser said.
It’s only a matter of time before Gesser gets back into coaching, he admitted. And while he’s near campus he hopes to take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time in the film room with Leach, picking the veteran coach’s brain.
Wide receiver Drew Loftus was dismissed from the team last season for theft, but has worked his way back and looks ready for a big role with the Cougars. He trained with Halliday throughout the offseason leading up to spring practices and it appears to have paid off. The junior had a number of receptions on Tuesday and has emerged as one of Halliday’s favorite targets.
“He’s a heck of a receiver and he’s a lot faster than anybody gives him credit for so be looking out for him,” Halliday said.