Inside QB Bender's signing day with the Cougs

FORT LAUDERDALE – Quarterback Peyton Bender made it official early Wednesday morning – he's a Washington State Cougar. was there at his signing day event to get Bender's reaction – plus some insight from his offensive coordinator and more.

Peyton Bender, the 6-1, 185-pound senior from Fort Lauderdale's Cardinal Gibbons High, signed his letter of intent Wednesday morning shortly after 8 a.m. EST. He and fellow Floridian, WR Keith Harrington, were the first to fax in their signed Letters of Intent to Washington State on National Signing Day.

"I feel satisfied finally being able to sign my scholarship papers," Bender said when asked about his emotions on the big day. "There's a lot of gratification going through me right now."

Bender, looking sharp in a white dress shirt, wine-colored tie and a matching Washington State cap, posed for photos with his father Mike, his mother Kelley and his grandmother Kathy.

He also chatted happily with nine of his football teammates, who also signed with various colleges on Wednesday.

Among those were three of his wide receivers, who all went to Division I colleges – Trevon Lee to Duke, George Rushing to Wisconsin and Christian Blake to Northern Illinois.

Rushing said he will miss Bender.

"That's my dude right there," Rushing said. "He gave me a lot of (footballs). I think Peyton will adjust to college pretty well. He will probably have to redshirt a year because they have a quarterback already, but he's going to be straight."

GIBBONS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Matt DeBuc said Washington State is getting a gem.

"You couldn't ask for a better quarterback and a better kid," DeBuc said of Bender. "He's a very coachable kid. He made my job easier and gave us the ability to do so many things on offense.

"I could call (Mike Leach) or anybody from their staff and we could implement what they were doing right away because Peyton is so cerebral. And then he has God-given (physical) ability."

DeBuc said Bender's late-season injury – he has since recovered from his broken collarbone and is back throwing and working out without limitation – was tough for Gibbons to overcome and led to their first-round exit in the playoffs.

"It's like the sky was falling (when he got hurt)," DeBuc said. "We were so dialed in with him."

Bender's maturity will benefit him in college, DeBuc said.

It helps, too, that DeBuc said 90 percent of Gibbons' playbook was torn from the pages of Washington State's offense.

"He's not going to have a problem there," DeBuc said. "The good thing is that they're going to have a senior quarterback there (Connor Halliday). Peyton is going to engulf himself with the meetings - because the physical part for him is easy.

"It's all about repetitions. But I think he will be in position to compete for the starting job after his redshirt freshman year.

"He had a lot of other options (including Penn State). But I think Washington State's offense - that system - really fits him. And Mike Leach fits his personality because he's a very cerebral coach."

MIKE BENDER, Peyton's dad, is excited to see his son go off to college. The Benders, including Peyton, will fly to Los Angeles in late May and take a scenic car trip up to Pullman.

He said Peyton will start taking classes immediately upon arrival in June – exactly four months from today.

The Benders will then return to Pullman in the fall for Washington State's home opener.

"I'm excited for him," Mike Bender said. "He's worked hard."

Mike Bender, though, said he has one regret about the past year.

"It's disappointing not to know how far the team would have gone if Peyton hadn't gotten hurt and what his numbers might have been with five more games," the elder Bender said. "That's the unknown.

"On the other hand, I'm glad that Washington State stood by his side (despite the injury) and that he is still going to play there."

Bender, who should be cleared for contact in about six weeks, used the word "unfortunate" to characterize his injury.

"I still think it was a good season – I played well," he said. "It gets me a little bit that I couldn't finish out my senior year. But I'm just so happy to be headed to Washington State."

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