The pieces are in place for the Washington State offense to put up big numbers this fall. The Cougars return their entire offensive line and they have a plethora of receiving talent.
The only wild card appears to be at quarterback. Luke Falk, the likely starter, is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound redshirt sophomore with three games of starting experience.
But Falk -- he of the impeccable work ethic, film junkie habits and the ability to rally people around him -- is the product of his life experiences, and everything he’s been through has helped mold him into what the Cougars hope will be their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Going back to high school, Falk has gleamed with potential.
“I was born to be a quarterback,” he told a CNN reporter in 2011, during the spring semester of his sophomore year at football powerhouse Oaks Christian School in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
That year, as part of a series on “Extreme Parenting,” CNN interviewed Falk and his private quarterback coach, Steve Clarkson. The segment portrayed Falk as a young quarterback on the brink of stardom whose parents had pulled out all stops to advance his training.
To a point, that was true.
After a successful sophomore season for Luke at Logan (Utah) High School that yielded a scholarship offer from Florida State, the Falks moved that winter to California because “it seemed like an adventure that could be good for our whole family,” said Mike Falk, Luke’s father.
In theory, the adventure would bring Luke closer to Los Angeles-based Clarkson, and increase his exposure with college recruiters. It would also give Luke’s two older sisters -- budding country music stars Alexa and Natalee -- a chance to break into the robust Southern California music industry.
The move didn’t work out the way they’d planned. Luke lasted only 10 months in California before they moved back to Logan.
Looking back, Luke has no regrets about the way his high-school career unfolded. Everything -- the Oaks Christian experiment, missing his key junior season of football and having Florida State pull its scholarship offer -- all combined to deliver him to exactly where he was supposed to be, he says: at Washington State, ready to embark on what could be a breakout sophomore season.
Too much change
But back in high school, there were times when he struggled to deal with all the change. The move to Thousand Oaks proved tough from the get-go for Falk.
“It was a little too big for me,” Falk said. “I (was around) people driving BMWs and Porsches. I’m used to 1989 Ford pickup trucks that barely get to school working. I guess I was a little star-struck going in there. ... I met a lot of great people there. But it was just different, it didn’t fit me.”
Luke’s mom, Analee, and his two sisters lasted only three weeks before they moved back to Utah. At one point, Luke told his father he too wanted to move home to Logan, but Mike encouraged his son to tough it out through the end of the spring semester.
The situation improved for Luke over time. He found friends on the football team and won the starting job over Brandon Dawkins, who eventually accepted a scholarship offer from Arizona.
But things weren’t going well at home. His parents were shuttling between Logan and Thousand Oaks, taking turns to stay with Luke. When their schedules didn’t align, Luke occasionally ended up alone in California, with just his labradoodle, Cayenne, for company.
“It was a real growing-up period for me,” Luke said, adding that his stint at Oaks Christian forced him to become more independent at an early age.
Mike and Analee’s marriage had been on the rocks for a while, and they separated before the start of Luke’s junior football season. That was part of the reason why, two games into the season, the Falks moved back to Utah for good.
“The thought process was simple,” Mike wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “It was to keep my marriage together or not. It was a family decision 100 percent. My wife had moved back to Utah and Luke was on his own at times. I decided to pull Luke out of Oaks Christian. I became skeptical of the media as they portrayed it that Luke had been benched.”
The in-season move resulted in the Utah State High School Athletic Association declaring Luke Falk ineligible for football that year. Determined to make the best of a bad situation, he spent his junior season filming Logan High’s games and breaking down film with Logan coach Mike Favero.
Favero was, and remains, one of Luke’s biggest football mentors.
“If anybody gave me my love for the game and really introduced me to everything, it was definitely him,” Falk said. “We used to watch film together in the mornings. He’d bring bagels or something and we’d go in and watch Tom Brady.”
As they dissected film of various NFL teams, Favero taught Luke to analyze defenses.
“I trained him to think like a defensive coordinator,” Favero said. “I said, ‘It’ll be real easy to learn to call offenses if you learn to recognize defenses.’ “
Proving his worth
Falk ultimately had a stellar senior season at Logan in 2012, during which he threw for 3,618 yards and 36 touchdowns, and set the Utah high school single-season record for pass attempts (562) and completions (330).
But losing his junior season took Falk off the college recruiting radar. He ended up committing to Cornell over a lone scholarship offer from Idaho.
Then, WSU came calling.
“I thought he was overlooked,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “I thought he was a very good player.”
WSU didn’t have a scholarship for Falk, but the Cougars invited him to walk on and he accepted, seeing it as an opportunity to renew his dream of playing FBS football.
When starting quarterback Connor Halliday broke his leg against USC last November, Falk was thrust into the spotlight as a redshirt freshman.
He started the final three games of the season and wowed fans with a five-touchdown, 471-yard debut against Oregon State but showed his inexperience with multiple interceptions in WSU’s end-of-season losses to Arizona State and Washington.
Now, after a strong offseason, Falk enters this season as the likely starter. He is not the rah-rah type. But in his own way, he’s assumed command of the Cougars’ offense this year.
Upon realizing that the team didn’t spend much time together outside of football in 2014, Falk led the Cougars’ offseason workouts this summer, and tried to cultivate more camaraderie.
“This summer, we did a lot more stuff as a team outside of football. We had barbecues, we played basketball and had pool parties... We made it a real goal to hang out outside of football to like each other a little more.”
Everyone has noticed.
“He’s the kind of kid who comes in early and leaves last -- even when he was the backup. And he’s always doing extra drills,” said senior offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund. “He’s the kind of person you want to be your quarterback. It makes you want to play for him. He’s got the work ethic and talent and everything you want. It’s on us to keep him upright and make him the dominant quarterback that he is.”
Now, the question is: Can he deliver?
LUKE FALK FILE
Height, weight: 6-4, 205
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Hometown: Logan, Utah
Passing yards: 1,859
Comp. Pct.: 642.%
Notable: vs. Arizona State last year, recorded second-most passing yards in school history (601)