Connor Halliday made vast improvement as a quarterback during his five years at Washington State. His greatest progress may have been demonstrated in his ability to read defenses and anticipate what would happen next on the field.
Halliday became so good at it, he was able to see his college career ending right before his eyes.
“When I was getting tackled, I knew I was going to break my leg,” Halliday said Thursday morning in a teleconference from Pullman. The record-setting senior made his first public comments since being injured Nov. 1 against USC.
“I’ve been tackled like that probably 70, 80 times in my career,” Halliday said. “When you’re going down, your brain is ‘shooting waves’ to your body to move your leg or to move your foot so your leg won’t break.
“Well, I tried to move my foot, but it was underneath (WSU center) Sam Flor, so I knew when I was going down it was going to break my leg. I heard it happen. You kind of go into extreme pain, then you’re kind of thinking, ‘I was so close to the end of the season.’”
Despite missing all but half of one quarter in WSU’s past two games, Halliday still leads the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision in passing with 3,873 yards, 32 touchdowns, 354 completions and 526 attempts in nine games. His school-record completion percentage of 67.3 ranks 10th.
“I had a decent career,” Halliday said before displaying typical brashness. “When I was playing well, there weren’t too many people who could hang with me.”
It would appear that one of those people is Halliday’s replacement. Halliday raved about redshirt freshman Luke Falk’s work ethic and potential in a SportspressNW interview five days before the USC game. Falk passed for 370 yards and two touchdowns against USC in his first extensive action of the season, then passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his first start, a 39-32 win at Oregon State Nov. 8. Washington State had a bye last week.
“He’s played so well,” Halliday said. “I’ve kind of been more of a cheerleader for him. It’s just such a cool feeling to see a guy you feel like you’ve helped along the way to play so well right when he gets thrown in the fire.”
Halliday, who led the Cougars to their first bowl game in 10 years last season, said he’s now trying to help Falk with motivational talk more than X’s and O’s.
“He’s so far ahead of (where) a guy his age should be,” Halliday said, “there’s not much I need to tell him other than, ‘Go out there and be confident. Play your game. Don’t let anything affect you.’”
Halliday vows to do some the same regarding his injury’s impact on his potential pro career. Halliday has dreamed of playing in the NFL since donning a miniature Dallas Cowboys uniform as a tyke and throwing footballs around the house with father, Duane, a former Boise State quarterback.
“Nothing in my career since I was a little kid has come easy. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Halliday said.
Halliday put up huge numbers at pass-happy Ferris High School in Spokane, but his lanky body scared off most recruiters. Halliday earned the admiration of coaches, players and fans by absorbing plenty of big hits in college, including one that lacerated his liver in the second quarter of his only start as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Halliday finished the game, passing for 289 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Utah.
Leach’s quarterbacks have always passed constantly and amassed impressive statistics, but none have made a big impact in the NFL. Before Halliday broke his right leg, draft analysts generally had Halliday going in the lower rounds or being signed as a free agent.
“I’ve been told it won’t affect it (his draft status) too much because it’s a bone and not a ligament,” Halliday said. “You know, bones always heal stronger than they were before.”
WSU coach Mike Leach has repeatedly said Halliday broke his ankle, though Leach has also made reference to the tibia and fibia bones in the leg. Halliday solved the mystery Thursday.
“I broke the tibia and fibia down lower in my leg, so I didn’t break my ankle,” he said. “But it’s closer to the ankle than the knee. I think that’s where he’s coming from.”
When Halliday was hospitalized, he was inundated with visitors and messages of support. He said he was particularly thankful for phone calls from former Cougars athletic director Sam Jankovich and ex-WSU head coach Dennis Erickson. Washington State fans made their feelings known, too.
“I just really appreciate it,” Halliday said. “It means the world to me that people take time out of their day to say a couple kind words to me, or write a letter or whatever it may be.
“I can’t say ‘thanks’ enough. I think it shows what a close-knit family we are out here in Pullman, and Cougars kind of having each other’s backs, and how strong Coug Nation really is.”
Halliday said he’s been told he should be running in three months and at “full recovery” in 4½ to five months. He leaves Washington State with virtually every major passing record, but he grew somewhat melancholy when asked what he’ll remember most about his time at WSU five or 10 years down the road.
“It’s hard to say right now,” he said, “because my outlook on it probably isn’t as positive as it should be.
“I’d like to think that a lot of my work and everything I put into it started a stepping stone for progress in the program and success in the program, and everything I’ve done in a leadership role has shown Luke how to do it the right way.
“Hopefully, his career takes off and he breaks all my records and they start going to bowl games and everything I wish I could have done.”