Future Coug QB given the all-clear signal

FUTURE COUGAR QB Peyton Bender recently got a hoodie, a long-sleeve shirt and some other cold-weather gear as he prepares to make the move from sunny South Florida to Pullman. But his best gift came five days after Christmas… That was when he was cleared by his doctor to start throwing again after a broken collarbone ended his final high school season prematurely.

"The bone is still healing," said Peyton Bender, a three-star, 6-1, 185-pound quarterback out of Fort Lauderdale's Cardinal Gibbons High. "I won't be cleared for contact for a few more months. But the bone is enough healed that I can start throwing and lifting weights."

Bender was hurt Nov. 1 when he was sacked and "sandwiched" by two American Heritage defenders. The defensive right end had beaten the Gibbons left tackle around the edge.

When Bender stepped up, he was confronted by a linebacker who blitzed up the middle.

"The defensive end had me wrapped up, and the linebacker came in unblocked and hit my left shoulder," Bender said. "It hurt really bad, but I thought I could shake it off.

"I went to the line of scrimmage (Gibbons runs a no-huddle offense) to call the next play, but I couldn't lift my left arm. While I waited for the play (to be signaled in from the sideline), I went under my jersey and could feel the bone (protruding)."

At that point, Bender took himself out of the game.

"I was upset," Bender said. "I pretty much knew it was the end of my season."

Without Bender, Gibbons lost in the first round of the playoffs, 25-23 to Immokalee.

Bender had surgery, and a plate with six screws was inserted into his shoulder.

The worst part for Bender wasn't the pain – it was the inactivity. He was not allowed to run in the first month after surgery.

NOW THAT THE restrictions against running, throwing and lifting have been removed, Bender is feeling much better.

He watched a lot of football while he was out, including Washington State's heartbreaking 48-45 loss to Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.

Washington State (6-7) blew a 22-point lead and lost two fumbles in the final minutes.

But there were positives as well. The Cougars, in just their second season under coach Mike Leach, played their first bowl game since 2003.

In addition, junior quarterback Connor Halliday passed for 410 yards and six touchdowns in the game, tying the all-time bowl record set last season by Geno Smith at West Virginia.

"The team is getting a lot better under Leach," Bender said. "The season was a step forward. I was happy to see them go to a bowl game for the first time in a long time."

BENDER SAID HE has been told he will redshirt this season and then, with Halliday a senior in 2014, will be poised to compete for the starting Cougars QB job in the spring of 2015.

In the meantime, Bender is studying the Cougars' plays. He already has experience in the basic system because Gibbons modeled its offense around what Washington State does under Leach.

"The only thing different is the terminology," Bender said. "But it's the same basic offense."

ONE GETS THE sense that Bender is hugely focused on football and a real student of the game – he even spent a greater part of New Year's Eve with friends while watching Duke and Texas A&M play.

Bender took his official visit to Washington State on Dec. 13. He and 11 other recruits got to meet the Cougars players, sit in on team meetings and watch practice.

"It was really cool to see the drills," Bender said. "It's very similar to what we do - just a little more detailed."

Since he is on the East Coast, Bender's signed scholarship papers figure to be among the first to arrive in Pullman on Feb. 5, National Signing Day. Bender, who politely declined Penn State's scholie offer after he pledged crimson, said he will have a signing ceremony early that day in the Gibbons gym, which means the fax machine in Pullman will be purring at about 5 a.m.

After that, Bender will graduate high school in May and arrive at Washington State in June, enroll in summer school coursework and take part in offseason workouts prior to fall camp.

"I'm looking forward to finally signing," Bender said. "I can't wait to get up there." NOTABLE NOTE:
Bender his senior season completed 167 of 256 passes for 2,184 yards, throwing for 28 TDs against 6 INTs.

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