There it was, a football in the western sky above Husky Stadium, big as a harvest moon. All Brandon Gibson had to do was frame it with his...
PULLMAN — There it was, a football in the western sky above Husky Stadium, big as a harvest moon. All Brandon Gibson had to do was frame it with his hands and catch it.
He did, of course, completing Washington State’s 42-35 Apple Cup victory over Washington last November.
And that seemed like it would be the end of it for Gibson as a Cougar. No more all-Pac-10 seasons, no more season school receiving-yardage records (1,180) like he established in 2007.
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Paul Wulff came on in December to become WSU’s new head coach, and that looked like the logical time for Gibson to exit. But he gave Wulff his first upset victory, returning to an uncertain senior season with a different coaching staff.
“That didn’t really affect my decision at all,” Gibson said after a recent workout here, referring to the coaching transition. “I told Wulff from the beginning I was thinking about leaving, depending on my draft grade.”
During Christmas break, he discussed the new offense with coordinator Todd Sturdy and warmed to the idea of a senior season, how the Cougars might do some innovative things to get him the ball.
He talked to the last two Cougars who faced the decision. No consensus there; Jason Hill opted to return for his senior year in 2006. Devard Darling, the transfer from Florida State, passed on what would have been his senior year at WSU in 2004.
“In Jason’s case, he wanted to work toward a degree and come back for one more year,” Gibson said. “He didn’t feel he was prepared to leave early. Devard was physically mature and they’d come off a Holiday Bowl season. He was ready to go.”
Then Gibson got back the NFL draft analysis he had requested.
“It was a mid-round grade,” said Gibson. “I don’t want to put it out there, [but] it wasn’t what I wanted. If it had been a little higher, I would have left.
“You get back a mid-round grade, you can go anywhere. You can go as high as two, as low as six. It all depends on your 40 time, and I didn’t want to leave it up to a 40 time. I didn’t feel, if I got drafted in the seventh round, I’d be happy with myself.”
That’s not necessarily a downer for Gibson, and certainly not for the Cougars and holdover receivers coach Mike Levenseller.
“There’s no better sport than college football,” Gibson said. “In my mind, I could leave, but why not come back and just enjoy college — be a regular person, and student? I didn’t want to be viewed as a big-time college football player, I just wanted to be normal, really.
“Coming back, I was really excited about that. I get to play with my teammates. You only get the college experience once.”
The 40 time of which Gibson speaks can indeed be a deal-breaker. He’s not a burner; he said he ran a 4.46 in high school but hasn’t done one at WSU. Instead, Gibson’s calling card is terrific hands, better than Hill’s, and, at 6 feet 1 and 201 pounds, an ability to get off the line and dictate terms to defensive backs.
Injuries in WSU workouts could test Gibson’s resourcefulness. NCAA 400-hurdles champion Jeshua Anderson had a hernia operation that will keep him out until at least late September and fellow sophomore Daniel Blackledge, a good prospect, has missed most of fall camp with hamstring problems.
“Hopefully, coach Sturdy does a good job of hiding me,” Gibson said. “If I get double-teamed, I get double-teamed. I still have to make plays through the double-teams.”
So, about that Apple Cup climax — how does an all-league wideout find himself so ridiculously open?
“I believe the corners were playing cover-2 and the safeties were playing man,” Gibson recalled. “The safeties were coming down on the slot [Michael Bumpus]. ‘Bump’ ran a bubble route to the sideline.
“As soon as I got past the line of scrimmage, as soon as I got past the corner, I said, ‘Somebody messed up.’ “
You could say that.
Gibson ran to the post, Alex Brink got the ball away a millisecond before taking a big hit, and Gibson does what he usually does. He made the 125th reception of his WSU career. And in time, he decided there would be a lot more.