PULLMAN — Gage Gubrud made the first start of his career against them. Now he’s one of them.
After a long and at times strenuous process for the FCS All-American and two-time Walter Payton Award finalist, Gubrud finally got the clarity he was looking for Saturday. The former Eastern Washington quarterback will spend his final season of college eligbility in the Pac-12 Conference, at Washington State, after earning a medical redshirt from the NCAA.
The Cougars officially introduced Gubrud on Saturday morning from their official Twitter account: “And the final piece of the Class of 2019 is in! Welcome to the WSU Cougar Family, @Gagegubs! #GoCougs #JoinTheHunt”
“We are excited for Gage to come in and compete with the quarterbacks on our team,” head coach Mike Leach said in a press release. “He is an extremely experienced and productive player who led Eastern Washington to great heights in his time there. It’s not often that you can add a quarterback to your roster that has started 28 games and thrown for nearly 10,000 yards. We are looking forward to getting him on campus and finishing his collegiate career in a WSU Cougar uniform.”
Though only 70 miles separate the schools, getting the dual-threat Gubrud from EWU to WSU came with some major hurdles. Five days ago, the QB confirmed to The Spokesman-Review his application for a medical redshirt had been denied by the NCAA, though Gubrud planned to appeal the decision citing “unusual circumstances.”
The NCAA moved swiftly to overturn the initial decision, granting Gubrud his sixth year of eligibility less than a week later.
The QB’s situation may have been unprecedented at any level of college football.
A toe injury suffered in EWU’s fifth game of the season at Montana State forced Gubrud to spend the rest of his senior year in Cheney on the sidelines, while backup Eric Barriere took over and lifted the Eagles to the FCS playoffs and eventually the national championship game, which EWU lost to North Dakota State 38-24.
The NCAA states that a player is eligible for a medical redshirt if he played in one-third or fewer of his team’s games. Only because the Eagles advanced to the national title game — and thus played in 15 games — did Gubrud qualify.
The Spokesman-Review learned on Jan. 10 that Gubrud had entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal and the QB later confirmed that he’d narrowed his choices down to WSU and Utah.
In the end he chose the Cougars, who are replacing another one-year transfer behind center — Gardner Minshew. It’s unclear if Gubrud will be able to join the Cougars for spring camp, but once he does arrive, he’ll easily be the most experienced signal-caller on Leach’s roster.
Gubrud will be back in Pullman three years after making the first start of his career in Martin Stadium, where he and wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the Eagles to a 45-42 upset win. Gubrud, a sophomore at the time, accounted for six touchdowns in the game, passing for five and rushing for another. He completed 34-of-40 attempts for 474 yards and rushed for another 77.
He quickly became one of the most lethal dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and was twice named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award (2016, 2017) — the FCS equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Gubrud was an FCS All-American in 2016 and shared Big Sky Player of the Year honors with Kupp the same year.
Over an EWU career that spanned 32 games, Gubrud completed 753-of-1,165 passes (64 percent) for 9,984 yards, 87 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound native of McMinnville, Oregon, also figures to be the most mobile QB Leach has had in eight years at WSU. Gubrud’s logged 259 career rushing attempts, 1,042 yards and has 13 touchdowns on the ground.
The only players on WSU’s roster with game experience are redshirt seniors to-be Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, both former junior college players who backed up Minshew in 2018. Together, Tinsley and Gordon completed 10-of-14 passes for 80 yards, only spelling WSU’s starter in garbage time of blowout wins.
Former four-star recruit Cammon Cooper, entering his redshirt freshman season, and December signee Gunner Cruz will also be in the hunt for the starting job.