Five minutes into a group interview, a TV reporter slyly, matter-of-factly posed the inevitable question. Gage Gubrud was obviously prepared. He didn’t blink. He answered as promptly and fluidly as he had answered every other query.
Washington State’s new quarterback understands that media and fans are going to compare him to Gardner Minshew. And he understands that doing so himself would serve no purpose.
“I don’t think about it,” he said this week during the Cougars’ preseason football camp at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston. “I think the media puts a lot on that. They look at how much success the grad transfer had last year, and it gets really exciting and everybody wants to make a story about it: Another grad transfer coming in. Is is going to be the same? Is it going to be worse?”
Yes, these questions will be asked again and again, at least in people’s minds. And all Gubrud (GOO-brood) can do is answer with his play on the field.
He’ll try to do that again tonight when the Cougars stage their first preseason scrimmage, having ended the Lewiston segment of camp with an abbreviated practice Thursday and returned to Pullman. They’ll begin practice at 7:30 tonight and start scrimmaging perhaps 20 to 30 minutes later.
One reason Gubrud can’t escape the comparisons with Minshew, who led the Cougars to an 11-2 season and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, is the sheer number of common aspects to their stories.
Like Minshew, Gubrud is a graduate transfer looking to make the most of a bonus season in Pullman. Like Minshew, he speaks rapidly and engagingly, putting others at ease with an effortless smile.
Like Minshew a year ago, he’s locked in a three-way battle for a starting role with Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley, with each of them getting virtually equal reps over the course of several workouts. Like Minshew, he’s a bit shorter than the other two, at 6-foot-2, but perhaps has an edge in mobility that he’ll try to exploit to the fullest.
At some point, though, the comparisons have to end. For Gubrud, they never really started.
“We’re all different people,” he said in that group interview Tuesday. “It’s a new team. Nothing we did last year as a team matters for this year. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. But I’m not Gardner. I don’t throw the ball the same way as Gardner. Gardner is a great quarterback, but we go about things differently.”
Cougar fans are certainly more familiar with Gubrud than they were last summer with Minshew, a Mississippian who’d been a part-time starter for a sputtering program at East Carolina. Gubrud grew up in McMinnville, Ore., and became a local sensation 70 miles from Pullman at Eastern Washington, where he was a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the FCS. More to the point, he orchestrated the Eagles’ 45-42 upset of WSU in Pullman in 2016.
But Gubrud doesn’t deny the adjustments he needs to make in climbing to the FBS from the lower tier of Division I football. They’re surely more palpable than the ones concerning predecessors and legacies.
“Just the level of football, getting used to the speed of the game every single day,” he said. “It’s not like it was a slow game back in the FCS level. It’s just, every day it’s a just a little bit faster, guys are one step quicker, so you’ve got to be that much sharper with your reads.
“That’s been the biggest difference — and the resources. You’ve got all the resources you need to be successful here, whereas at an FCS-level school like Eastern and a lot of other schools, with the exception of some, you’re lacking the money to provide all the stuff that players could use to benefit themselves to the fullest.”
His favorite of those WSU amenities is the athletes’ training table at the Cougar Football Complex, and he’s a particular fan of chef Raul Vera’s crab legs.
One of the most striking of Minshew’s achievements last year was his quick assimilation of coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, especially considering he hadn’t arrived on campus until May 2018. Gubrud enrolled at the Pullman school last January but couldn’t fully capitalize on the head start. He suffered a lower-leg injury during winter conditioning drills and skipped spring practices. Still, he said he’s well-versed in the Air Raid.
“It’s not like I’ve been running it for four years or anything like that,” he said. “But I feel comfortable operating it. I know every single play in the playbook. I feel comfortable with my reads and stuff like that. It’s just being disciplined enough and kind of knowing how things open up. Just getting reps. At the end of the day, coach Leach says all the time, ‘You just need a bunch of reps in the offense to really get familiar and feel how things open up.’ ”
Gordon and Tinsley, both seniors who joined the Cougars in 2016, already have that familiarity. As they did with Minshew during 2018 preseason camp, they’re sharing their knowledge with Gubrud even while conceding almost nothing in their race for the No. 1 job.
“That’s how you’re going to be the best quarterback you’re going to be, by competing with other guys,” Gubrud said. “Trey and Gordo are awesome quarterbacks. It’s great to learn from them, see how they do things. I’m sure they do the same, and we kind of learn from each other.”
He was asked if he’s ever experienced such a tight competition for a starting role.
“You just go out there and play,” he said. “You don’t pay attention to how close it is — how they’re doing, how you’re doing. You just focus on what you’re doing to make the team better, and what you can do in your off-time to make yourself perform better on the field.”
Anything more, he implied, would be as pointless as comparing himself to Gardner Minshew.