PULLMAN, Wash. — Back when Luke Falk was a freshman walk-on at Washington State, struggling to strike a balance between being a first-year college football player, school and trying to have a few dollars of his own, he picked up a part-time job working for a catering company.
One of his assignments was working a high-end booster event where Falk was asked to serve, of all people, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos.
“Here I am serving our athletic director. He didn’t know me at the time, probably. But, he’s heard the story now,” Falk recalled. “He was one of the only guys that said, ‘Thank you, and please, and thank you.'”
Years later, everyone associated with Washington State knows Falk. He’s no longer overlooked. He doesn’t work with catering companies on the side anymore either. His serving happens on the field, and he’s done it quite well, to the tune of nearly 11,000 yards passing already in his career.
For a nightcap, Falk bypassed early entry into the NFL and returned for his senior season with a chance to complete one of the greatest careers in the quarterback-rich Pac-12 Conference.
If all goes to plan, Falk will rewrite the Pac-12 record book by the end of the season, the result of being the distributor in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. Falk needs just 2,700 yards passing and 28 TD passes to overtake the all-time Pac-12 leaders in those categories — Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (13,600 yards passing) and USC’s Matt Barkley (116 TD passes).
While the cast around him has improved throughout his career, Falk is a major reason No. 24 Washington State has morphed into a contender.
Not bad for a former walk-on.
“To be perfectly honest, I think he kind of assumed he was going to be the starter a little before I did,” Leach said. “I’d figured it was a battle, and we had a kid that we recruited ahead of him. But I was definitely going to allow it to be and make it a battle. Then he ends up beating the guy out, and off we go, you know?”
Falk has brought Washington State to a place of relevance that’s been elusive for the program. The Cougars have gone to two straight bowl games and getting to a third in Falk’s senior season would be just the second time Washington State has gone to three straight bowl games. A year ago, they played in a de facto Pac-12 North championship game, the result of eight straight wins, before losing to rival Washington.
He’s the next in a long line of great quarterbacks to make their way through Pullman, a list that includes the names of Thompson, Rypien, Bledsoe, Leaf and Gesser. Yet none of them were asked to run a system as intricate as Leach’s, which is why the coach regularly lauds his quarterback for his smarts and comprehension.
“I think he watches more film than anybody else I’ve ever dealt with,” Leach said. “He watches a ton of film. Sometimes, I think, too much. He’s about the only quarterback I’ve considered shutting off the film.”
Leach raves about how steady Falk is on the field, believing teammates respond to that. Yet, the quarterback has his quirks. He revamped his diet about a year ago, even if it means eating foods he despises like kale.
During the early stages of his college career, it was Falk’s musical sisters — Alexa and Natalee — who were more well-known than their pass-slinging younger brother. “They’ve got the most talent in the family,” Falk said.
And there is his odd timing for jokes, which also speaks to his personality. Last year, the Cougars trailed 24-6 at Oregon State before rallying for a 35-31 win. Down by more than two scores, Falk was cracking jokes on the sideline, trying to keep his teammates from feeling stressed.
“He was kind of relaxed and poised and I wouldn’t call that weird, but it’s one of those things you’re in a high pressure situation against a Pac-12 team that we’re losing to and he’s out there making jokes and having fun,” teammate Cody O’Connell said. “It was kind of interesting.”
Now remember that Falk has accomplished all this because he was willing to take a risk. There was no guarantee of a scholarship or even an opportunity when he arrived at Washington State. At one point in his high school career, Falk seemed destined for Florida State, only to have that opportunity dissolve. In the end, his choices appeared to be Cornell, maybe Idaho and maybe Wyoming.
If not for Leach’s arrival in Pullman, Falk likely would have headed for the Ivy League and received limited football exposure. As it stands, Falk is considered one of the top NFL quarterback prospects for the 2018 draft after passing on a chance to leave after his junior season.
“It felt right to come back. Felt like I had some things, growing up to do in life, not football,” Falk said. “I felt football-wise, I could. But there’s still a lot to learn this year and I really want to finish off with the guys I came in with.”