Analee Falk & WSU football via eyes of a mom

ANALEE FALK wasn't prepared, either for what happened or the range of emotions that could be packed into such a narrow window of time.

Sitting in the stands at Martin Stadium last Nov. 1 with husband Mike, the play unfolding on the field below looked on its face to be like any you might see on an autumn Saturday. Except in this one Connor Halliday was writhing on his back after completing a 14-yard pass to Vince Mayle.

“It broke my heart. I’m friends with Connor’s mom. We were all so distraught ... Connor was in so much pain and not getting up,” she told Cougfan while in Bellevue last month with her singing daughters for the CougsFirst! Show.

The implications for her own son, Luke, didn’t fully register until medics brought out the stretcher to carry off the most prolific passer in Washington State history.

“Oh my gosh, this is going to happen,” she recalls thinking to herself.

By “this,” she didn’t mean the obvious — that Luke was coming into the game to take over for Halliday. Luke had come into games twice before, against Nevada and Portland State, in early season mop-up duty.

This “this” was far more loaded.

This was in the first quarter of a Pac-12 game against one of the nation’s storied programs, USC.

This was validation that a leap of faith — and a refusal to let go of a dream — had led her son to where he wanted to be: at the helm of a power conference football team.

Of course, the circumstances were less than story book. Halliday’s season was done, his right leg broken.

That painful reality aside, the implications for Falk were nothing less than seismic. As he headed from the sideline out to the Cougars’ 37 to take command, his first step covered a couple of feet but figuratively speaking, given his circuitous path to get there, it was wider than the Palouse Prairie.

An ill-fated family move from Utah to California before his high school junior season jettisoned him so far off the recruiting radar that Cornell and Idaho were his only options until Mike Leach invited him to walk on and join a freshman class featuring Tyler Bruggman, WSU’s first four-star quarterback signee in a decade.

“It was hard to pass up the Ivy League opportunity, but Luke told me, ‘Mom, I I need to do this,’” said Analee, noting that an in-home visit by WSU receivers coach Dave Yost sealed the deal.

Luke, she said, didn’t want to be left wondering for the rest of his life if he could have succeeded at the highest level of college football. Besides, Yost assured him he was no ordinary walk on; when Yost was the offensive coordinator at Missouri he had pegged Falk as a top 10 QB in the 2013 recruiting cycle.

“There was something about Washington State, they just treated him differently. They said he would be a preferred walk on and given reps in practice and treated like a scholarship player,” Analee (pictured above right) said. “They honored every word.”

Two years later, a scholarship in hand following a stellar 2014 spring season, Falk was piloting the Air Raid.

“Like a rose growing out of the thorns,” Analee says of her son’s unusual path.

With Halliday out and Luke now foursquare in the line of fire, she said she suddenly noticed how enormous USC’s players seemed to be.

Her heart was racing.

Luke eased the tension on his first snap, completing an 8-yard-pass to Mayle, and then rushing 7 yards for a first down two plays later.

The drive stalled and USC would win handily, but Falk looked savvy as he fired for 356 yards and 2 TDs.


In 2014, as a second-year freshman, Falk completed 156 of 243 passes (64.2 percent) for 1,879 yards, 13 TDs and 7 INTs. His efficiency rating was 140.5.

To Analee and an anxious Cougar Nation, it was pretty clear Luke Falk was right where be belonged — a notion he put into hyperdrive the following week when he carved up Oregon State so masterfully that he was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week and Manning Award national quarterback of the week.

“It worked out amazing,” said his mom. “After those first two weeks, you could say there was nowhere to go but down.”

Indeed, a week after the OSU fireworks, Falk struggled in the second half at Arizona State, and in the season finale against Washington he looked every bit a second-year freshman and was done no favors by a receiving corps that dropped a plethora of passes.

“Those last two games showed me the reality of being a Pac-12 quarterback. You really see how critical people can be. I’ve quickly learned I need a thicker skin,” Analee says with a chuckle.

“The (Sean) Mannion family at Oregon State created a safety zone around them in the stadium — only friends sitting in the immediate area — to get away from it. I need to find a place where I can be safe like that.”

Informed that such beloved former Cougar quarterbacks as Mark Rypien and Drew Bledsoe attracted a bit of fan ire back in the day, Analee drew comfort.

“Oh that’s good to know. That makes me feel better,” she said.

For Luke, though, slings and arrows make no difference, she added.

“Growing up, he was always even keel, calm and cool.

“He told me (after the ASU game), ‘don’t waste your time looking at the media — one day you're up, one day you're down.’”

As for the 2015 season, she said Luke is “pumped” and “focused,” but more than cognizant of the fact his impressive work against USC and Oregon State is ancient history, that he needs to fend off a major challenge from Peyton Bender for the starting role before he begins looking for redemption against ASU and Washington.

“He really wants to help get the program turned around,” she said. “This is where he wants to be be.”

THE ROAD TO PULLMAN:

As a senior at Utah's Logan High in 2012, Falk set single-season state records for passes attempted (562) and completed (330). He threw for 3,618 yards and 36 touchdowns that season and guided Logan to an 8-3 record.

Falk’s first taste of Pullman came the summer before his high school senior season when he and his parents loaded up the car and traveled to Utah, BYU, Boise State, Idaho and WSU on unofficial visits. “Mike Leach and Washington State — that was Luke’s idea. He said they ran the same offense (as Logan High) and he’d fit in perfectly,” remembers Analee.

WSU was the last leg of the trip.

Upon arrival, the Falks met with Eric Mele, a WSU assistant coach now who was a quality control and quarterback development specialist at the time. “He must have thought we were crazy telling him how good Luke is. Eric is a gem of a guy — we laugh about it now … He called during Luke’s senior year, just before his official visit to Cornell, to invite him on an official visit to WSU.”

NOTABLE:
The annual Crimson & Gray Game will kickoff at 2 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks) Saturday at Spokane's Albi Stadium. Afterward, players will remain on the field for photos and autographs with fans.

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