SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ George Schroeder breaks down the five quarterbacks you should be watching this season.
USA TODAY Sports
PULLMAN, Wash. — Luke Falk is pretty much obsessed with Tom Brady.
He won’t even try to deny it. Falk, Washington State’s standout quarterback, owns a Tom Brady shirt and a Tom Brady hat. He also already has ordered a copy of the NFL superstar’s new lifestyle book, which doesn’t come out until Sept. 19.
“It’s about his life, how he trains and things like that,” Falk told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s The TB12 Method. It comes out (next month). I’ll probably read it by (the next day).”
His teammates teasingly call it a “man crush,” but it’s more like a formula for Falk, whose Brady-like career plan has helped propel him and his team to a potentially disruptive season this year in the Pac-12 Conference.
According to preseason polls and predictions, this is supposed to be a big year for other, big-city Pac-12 quarterbacks and teams. In Los Angeles, sophomore Sam Darnold is the cover boy of this week’s ESPN The Magazine as quarterback for No. 4 Southern California. There’s also Josh Rosen at UCLA that some think might be the city’s top dog. In Seattle, junior Jake Browning returns to lead No. 7 Washington after finishing sixth last year in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Yet here among the rolling golden wheat fields of southeastern Washington, Falk once again might out-produce them all and become one of the top quarterbacks selected in next year’s NFL draft.
Statistically, Falk is the leading returning passer in major college football and has started 28 games for the Cougars, who rank 26th in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll heading into their season opener against Montana State Sept. 2.
The senior from Logan, Utah, just doesn’t get the same attention as the others. Much like Brady was many years ago, Falk remains overshadowed among rivals — a nearly permanent condition for him since joining WSU as a non-scholarship player in 2013.
“That’s because of media base,” Cougars head coach Mike Leach said of Pullman’s much smaller media market. “Through his career, he’s done more with less, and he’s by far the most productive. And he’s starting to get a better cast.”
With Falk leading the way, WSU finished 9-4 in 2015 and 8-5 last year, including eight straight wins in the middle of the season. This year, he’s got another big offensive line blocking for him, anchored by senior All-America guard Cody O’Connell, who’s listed at 6-foot-8, 368 pounds.
The Cougars lost two top receivers from last year’s team – Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. But they also return several proven recipients of Falk’s hot-handed passes. Tavares Martin, a starter at receiver, had 64 catches last year and is part of another spread-it-around smorgasbord this year for Falk, along with running backs Jamal Morrow and James Williams. Each caught 48 passes last season for the No. 3 passing offense in the nation at 362.5 yards per game.
Leach even says this year’s team looks to be his best Cougars squad yet. Before Leach arrived in 2012, WSU hadn’t had a winning season since 2003. Then came Falk, who’s still managed to keep – and almost seems to prefer – a low profile compared to others. He’s only been visited by one reporter for a national media outlet in the preseason of his final college year (USA TODAY Sports).
“He’s been an underdog his whole life,” said Morrow, a senior. “I think he’s the best in the Pac-12, personally, but I might be a little biased. His mindset is `if you’re going to count me as an underdog. I’m going to prove you wrong.’ It really rubs off on the team, too.”
That attitude also is part of the Brady pattern for Falk, who remembers being one of about seven quarterbacks upon joining the Cougars as a walk-on in 2013.
Similarly, quarterback Brady once was listed as seventh-string in college at Michigan. After that, six quarterbacks were picked in the 2000 NFL Draft before Brady was picked in the sixth round by the New England Patriots.
“I felt like that myself, and still carry that chip around like he does,” said Falk, who was placed on scholarship in 2014. “He’s a great inspiration — to see somebody a lot of people didn’t have faith in. But he had faith in himself.”
Brady, 40, since has won five Super Bowls, starting in 2002, when Falk was 7 and first remembers starting to follow him during the NFL postseason. The 6-foot-4 Brady is now larger than life and has his own brand — “TB12” — complete with various gear, meal plans and a $200 cookbook.
Falk, who also stands 6-foot-4, doesn’t have the Brady cookbook yet, however.
“My girlfriend, she’s like, ‘Be your own person,’” Falk said with a laugh. “So I didn’t get that one.”
He still follows Brady’s emphasis on health and nutrition and has developed a reputation as a health freak among his roommates. His diet has included organic fruits and vegetables, quinoa, couscous and a veggie omelet that once drew playful mocking from the meat-and-potatoes eaters on the team.
“He has a lot of Tom Brady things,” said WSU linebacker Peyton Pelluer, one of Falk’s roommates. “He has the hat, the meal plans, his protein. He does spend a lot of time in the kitchen. He’s a good cook. I’ll give him that.”
Falk hopes to lead the Cougars to a Pac-12 title. Last year, he completed 443 of 633 passes for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He could have turned pro afterward but opted not to because, he said, “I wanted to finish it off right with the guys I came in with. We’re really tight.”
As for his future beyond, there’s no doubt what he wants. “I want to play in the NFL at a high level for a lot of years,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
Just like his role model, whom he’s never met.
“I haven’t yet, no,” Falk said. “That would be pretty cool one day.”
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