PULLMAN — It was the second week of November in 2014, the Cougars had returned from Corvallis after hanging 52 points on Oregon State and the game’s hero was paying a visit to Jim Mastro’s fourth-floor office.
The fact that a 19-year-old redshirt freshman quarterback guided Washington State to a Pac-12 win on the road in his first start was thoroughly impressive. That Luke Falk, who’d been promoted from walk-on to scholarship only months earlier, threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns while completing 44 of his 61 pass attempts, was something that left all of the QB’s peers and coaches in awe.
Mastro surely was among them, but as someone else in the office began rambling about Falk’s numbers, the running backs coach picked up a dry-erase pen and marked the number “1” on his whiteboard.
“‘You know what this is?’” Mastro asked. “‘No clue,’” Falk responded. Mastro filled his pupil in: “‘It’s the number of wins you have.’” And then followed with: “As a quarterback, that’s the only stat that matters.”
Over the last four years, it’s been a good week whenever Falk has dropped by to change the number on the whiteboard. In that regard, this past Sunday was especially significant.
The little tradition had been kept top-secret, but this time, Mastro needed videographic evidence of Falk wiping off the old number and jotting down the new one: “25.”
“His first win in 15 I wrote the #1 on my board. Luke asked why I said wins as a QB is the only stat that matters Today he changes that to 25,” Mastro wrote on Twitter.
With a 28-0 win over Colorado on Saturday in Pullman, Falk secured his 25th career victory and moved past Jason Gesser to become the winningest quarterback in school history. A fourth-year starter who’s spent his senior season tearing down the Pac-12 Conference records held by Matt Barkley, Carson Palmer, Marcus Mariota and Jared Goff to name a few, Falk is on track to jump Sean Mannion as the league’s all-time leader in passing yards this weekend when the Cougars travel to Arizona on Saturday. Just 224 yards and the record is his.
But Falk would rather talk about the rising number in Mastro’s office.
“He just talked about winning games and talked about that’s how you get remembered as a quarterback,” Falk said, “and that’s how you get judged and that’s the only thing that matters in a team sport.”
At times, Mastro’s been out of the office when Falk has stopped by to make an edit to the whiteboard, so the fifth-year Cougars assistant naturally perks up when he returns to see fresh ink.
“It was our little thing and couldn’t be more proud of the kid,” Mastro said.
Falk’s a fifth-year senior with oodles of passing numbers that don’t mean anything to him — unless they’re necessary for a ‘W’ of course — and almost once a week, he finds himself in an interview setting telling reporters the latest Pac-12 record wouldn’t have happened without his offensive line, receivers and running backs.
He’s been a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate at times this season and would attend a ceremony in New York if invited, but probably wouldn’t make it through an acceptance speech without a few-dozen ‘thank yous’ for his teammates and coaches.
“He’s sincere about it,” Mastro said. “Some people it’s all talk, they really do care. With him, it’s just wins and losses. Whatever it takes to win a game and that’s what makes him so unique, so special. Just an unbelievable kid.”
On a wet Saturday at Martin Stadium, the old record-holder watched through the mist as Falk set the new wins standard for a WSU quarterback. Fifteen years ago, Gesser, now an Assistant Director of Development at WSU and radio analyst on all football broadcasts, won his 24th game when he led the Cougars over UCLA 48-27 in Pasadena.
Gesser didn’t have a hard time letting his record go.
During a short spell as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/interim head coach at Idaho, he actually tried to lure Falk to play for the Vandals. That didn’t work out — Gesser left Idaho in 2013 and Falk’s offer was revoked — but he’d still end up mentoring the young QB through a college career on the Palouse.
And Falk put a target on Gesser’s back early on.
“After that Oregon State game (in 2014), I had the stat sheet in my hand and I asked him if I wanted to see it,” Gesser recalled. “He goes, ‘Nope, the only thing that matters is we got the win.’ And then after we were off air, he mentioned, ‘Coach, you know I’m coming for your wins record, right? That’s the only one I want, that’s the only thing I care about.’ And I said, ‘I sure hope you get it buddy.’”
After Saturday’s win over Colorado, Falk showed up to a postgame interview with Gesser eager to deliver one three-word message: “I got it.”
For anyone who might not be able to grasp what Falk’s done in his four years at WSU, Gesser’s certainly qualified to put it into context.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” he said. “… It’s the longevity of being able to play for how many games you actually started and that’s one of the things that bugabooed me my freshman year is I sat out five games my freshman year because of my thumb. I had surgery on my thumb. Then my sophomore year, broke my leg so I missed the last two or three. … I know Luke missed a couple games here or there. The consistency part, that’s the thing in sports people I don’t think understand. That’s when you go from good to great.”
Gesser finds it poetic that Falk won No. 25 in one of his worst statistical games ever. In blustery and rainy conditions, Falk completed a career-low 17 passes on 34 attempts, which matches a career-low. It was the lowest completion percentage he’s had as WSU’s starter aside from a 2016 game at Colorado in which he completed 26-of-53 passes.
“You could tell he could care less,” Gesser said. “… All he cared about was that win. … It’s only fitting.”
Gesser’s still getting used to his new spot on the food chain.
“Kind of jokingly now, everyone around the office is saying this week, ‘Hey, what’s up No. 2?’” he said.
And Falk? He’s just hoping for a few more trips to the whiteboard before his career’s over.