Halliday finds inspiration in Gleason

PULLMAN – Connor Halliday will never forget his epic performance Saturday night against Arizona State, but the young quarterback's most precious memory from the weekend may have taken place the day before.

Steve Gleason, the former WSU linebacker who is battling a disease for which there is no cure, returned to his alma mater and dropped by the football locker room on Friday. The following day, he met with the team.

"Me and (fellow quarterbacks) David Gilbertson and Marshall Lobbestael saw Mr. Gleason walking through the locker room last night," Connor Halliday said after Saturday's game. It's so sad, to think a couple years ago, he was playing in the NFL. That disease is so tragic, but to have him come and talk to us meant the world.

"That guy is awfully tough. That's a great role model to have."

Gleason, 34, suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a muscular and nerve disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is named after the New York Yankees great, who died of the disease in 1941.

Gleason now moves and speaks slowly, but his mind remains sharp. He discussed football and life when he met with the Cougars a few hours prior to Saturday's game.

"We talked about what I think is important in life," Gleason said at a pregame press conference. "I talked a lot about how you treat other people.

"Obviously, winning and losing is important, but more important is the type of relationships you develop and how you grow as a person."

Halliday, wide receiver Marquess Wilson and coach Paul Wulff were among those inspired by Gleason's words.

"That just gave us an extra boost," Wilson said.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the building on the football team," Wulff said. "He is a special guy and a big part of this victory."

WULFF COULD just as easily have been referring to Halliday. The redshirt freshman from Spokane replaced Lobbestael midway through the first quarter and threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Wilson on his first official play in nine weeks.

Playing for the first time since WSU's second game Sept. 10 against UNLV, Halliday completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I just wanted to get a chance," said Halliday, whose passing yardage ranks second in WSU history and 10th in conference history (first among freshmen). Pac-12 records include previous forms of the league dating back to 1916.

"He came out and played his heart out and just showed us his character with his leadership," Wilson said.

The Cougars, one loss away from being eliminated from bowl consideration, came from behind three times to register a 37-27 win against an Arizona State team that has been ranked in the Top 25 much of the season.

"Connor obviously did a great job," Wulff said. "He's got a great knack. He's got a lot of growing to do, but he did a lot of great things."

"He's a great kid," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. "He's going to have a great career here."

HALLIDAY CREDITED JUST about everyone but himself – Sturdy, receivers, the offensive line, the defense, etc. -- for the victory. There was no mistaking Halliday's greatness on this night, however, and the lanky redhead also impressed everyone by willingly taking a few hits in order to deliver passes.

"The thing about Connor, he's a tough kid," Sturdy said. "He's a competitor. He got hit, I think, in the second series. He comes over, he's got a fat lip, blood is coming out of his mouth. It didn't faze him. He just kept making plays."

Wilson moved into first in the Pac-12 and fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 119.7 receiving yards per game. Just a sophomore, Wilson already ranks sixth in WSU history with 2,203 receiving yards. Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, interviewed on WSU's pregame radio show, said Wilson "might be the best receiver in the country." Wulff and Erickson were the only Pac-12 coaches to offer Wilson a scholarship two years ago.

WSU wide receiver-kickoff returner Isiah Barton ranks 13th in the nation in all-purpose yards at 158.6.

The Cougars opened Saturday's game by giving up their fourth kickoff return touchdown – no other FBS team has yielded more than two – and fell to 110th (out of 120 teams) in average kickoff return yards allowed. WSU led the nation in that stat in 2010.

The Cougars are 3 1-2 point underdogs Saturday against Utah on Senior Day (2 p.m., FCS-Atlantic).

Ticketmaster continues to sell tickets for the Apple Cup. The Cougars play Washington at Seattle's CenturyLink Field on Nov. 26 (4:30 p.m., Versus).

Why was Saturday's game played at 7:30 p.m. in mid-November in Pullman? Simple – Versus paid the Cougars approximately $250,000 to $300,000 to televise the game nationally.

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