To anyone who has closely observed the game-day performances of Washington State quarterbacks in recent years, it’s clear how much Anthony Gordon has learned from his elders.

Less visible is how much he’s been helped by a contemporary.

Trey Tinsley, a senior backup who has attempted only 15 passes in his Cougar career, has played a quiet but integral supporting role in Gordon’s emergence this year as the most prolific passer in the country.

They’ve been competitors and confidantes since they arrived on campus as junior-college transfers in 2016. Now that one of them has seized the starter’s spot as a senior, he seems intent on bringing the other along for the ride, drawing from his knowledge and perspective, especially on game day.

While Gordon plays, Tinsley watches. Then they compare notes on the sideline. It doesn’t hurt that the backup is the son of former USC quarterback Scott Tinsley and aspires to be a coach.

“They’ve known each other forever,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Tinsley knows the offense backward and forward, he’s a very sharp guy, and we do have Tinsley on the sideline looking for things on the field, because he’s good at being conscious of it but also just smart about how things are supposed to unfold. I think Tinsley is going to be a real good coach someday.”

The Cougars are coming off a bye week and preparing for a game against California at 4 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Network) in Berkeley, Calif. Both teams are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play.

It perhaps was no foregone conclusion Gordon and Tinsley would hit if off well when they enrolled at WSU after spending a season at opposite poles of the California JC system — Gordon in the northern half of the state at San Francisco City College and Tinsley in the south at Fullerton College.

“When I first showed up here, it was kind of funny — I wondered how this is going to go, trying to be friends with somebody I’m competing against the next four years,” Gordon said after practice Tuesday. “But Trey is an awesome dude — great friend, great teammate. He does whatever he can to help the team win, whether that’s holding for field goals (in previous seasons) or helping me out with something that went wrong during the game.”

Gordon’s resolve to lean on Tinsley’s input seems closely connected to his self-acknowledged debt to predecessors Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew. Leach is among many who think Gordon has drawn heavily from both quarterbacks.

“First of all, he’s a sharp guy, he’s a confident guy and he’s a smart guy,” the coach said. “And then he had Luke Falk and his kind of monk-like work ethic and film (study) to follow, and then he had Minshew’s enthusiasm and charisma to follow. I think he’s been very lucky, the guys that played ahead of him and that he got to learn from.

“But he’s capitalized on it pretty good. He throws the ball extremely well, the ball comes off his hand real quick and he’s got quick feet too, so he can stay out of trouble.”

Tinsley appears to be sharing the backup quarterback designation with graduate transfer Gage Gubrud, with Leach staying uncommitted as to who’d play if a substitution were necessary. Gordon has stayed healthy all season, leaving the other two with scraps of garbage-time action.

Tinsley, a former walk-on who quickly absorbed the principles of Leach’s Air Raid offense, has grown accustomed to the No. 2 job. During Minshew’s lone season as starter last year, it was Tinsley and not Gordon who generally was considered the No. 2 option. It wasn’t until the spring that Gordon seemed to inch ahead, and it wasn’t until shortly before the 2019 opener he was named the starter over Gubrud and Tinsley.

Like Minshew before him, he has made big strides since being afforded the largest share of reps. His 423 passing yards per game are 73 more than anyone else in the country, and his 70.0 completion percentage ranks eighth. He has thrown 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

According to Leach, Tinsley would have risen in similar fashion if he’d been anointed the starter.

“Trey is talented enough to start (with) most teams in this conference,” he said. “I just have a tremendous amount of respect for his commitment.”

Gordon said he wasn’t surprised when, not long after meeting Tinsley, he learned of his coaching aspirations. Nor does he seem surprised by the help he’s getting from his friend.

“It shows his actions align with his words,” Gordon said. “He’s a good teammate through and through. It’s something he’s always said. Everyone on this team, in our quarterback room especially, we take pride in being a good teammate and pulling for whatever guy is out there. I know (Tinsley) has got some football left, and he definitely could have played (at WSU). But I’m happy he’s here and helping me out.”

Dale Grummert may be contacted at or (208) 848-2290.

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