The Washington State quarterback insists he is healthy after breaking his leg last season and hopes he gets to prove he can play at the next level.
Somewhere across the mountains, where the cell service is spotty, Connor Halliday is driving back from a round of golf.
A pretty good round, too, considering the chill, rain and wind. Shot a 4-over 76.
But there’s something appetizing about imagining Halliday, the former Washington State quarterback, on the golf course. Right or wrong, fair or not, so much of Halliday’s football identity was tied to his emotions — jubilance and rage, often in the same game. Of all the people capable of fireworks on the golf course, Halliday seems like an obvious club-chucking candidate. Right?
Other players in Eastern Washington who could be drafted
School: Washington State
Position: Defensive tackle
Height, weight: 6-4, 299
Draft projection: Second to third round.
Draft analyst Rob Rang’s comment: “He’s the potential top-100 pick that nobody is talking about. He’s an athletic defensive tackle, one of the true penetrating defensive tackles in this draft class. There were some questions about whether he was a product of Washington State’s scheme. When you’re (trailing) as often as Washington State does, you’ve got to go after the quarterback. But I don’t see that at all. I see a guy who’s a legitimate athlete. He showed that at the combine. He was the fastest defensive tackle in the 40-yard dash. That gives you an idea of his raw athletic ability.”
School: Washington State
Position: Wide receiver
Height, weight: 6-3, 219
Draft projection: Fifth to sixth round.
Rob Rang’s comment: “He’s not a dynamic athlete, so in a wide receiver class filled with athletes it’s easy for him to get overshadowed. I like him. I think he’s a tough guy. I love the fact that he’s more athletic than he looks. When you look at him, he’s a physically sculpted kind of guy. He’s a tough kid, he’s a good special-teams player as well, and he catches the ball cleanly. The concern is he’s not a great athlete.”
School: Eastern Washington
Height, weight: 5-11, 190
Draft projection: Sixth to seventh round.
Rob Rang’s comment: “He looked like a draftable player when he was at UCLA. Teams have to feel like he made the adjustment after a couple of failed (drug) tests at UCLA, which got him kicked off the team. But there was no question based off what I saw on tape and what I read, he’s an NFL prospect who deserves consideration in day three. He has the bloodlines you’re looking for (he is the son of former 49ers and Cardinals safety Tim McDonald and brother of Rams safety T.J. McDonald). And in a weak safety class, he has enough to if not get drafted at least get a chance as an undrafted free agent.”
“Nah, I’m totally different,” he says. “I think that helped me going into my senior year. When I went to Louisiana, I was asking Peyton Manning about his mental process. He was telling me that no matter what happens in a game — he throws a pick, he throws a touchdown — that by the time he goes to the sideline and comes back onto the field for that next drive, he’s gotta be at what he called ‘back to zero,’ like nothing happened.
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“I tried to take that, and I think that’s the way you play golf. You can’t play golf mad, just like you can’t play quarterback mad. I think those two tie in together.”
Yet lest we picture Halliday as a lifeless, sunken-eyed zombie wielding a golf club, he admits, “If I miss a shot bad I’ll cuss up a storm or something. But I’m pretty calm.”
Halliday insists that despite his reputation, he also was pretty calm as Washington State’s senior quarterback last season.
“I think a lot of that has gotten blown out of proportion,” he said.
But there was something weirdly personal about watching Halliday. He wore his pain and excitement, right there for everyone. His feelings were our feelings.
As Halliday waits to hear his name called during the NFL draft this week, he says his demeanor, that wild will to win, was one of his strengths — and one of his flaws. No one ever accused Halliday of not caring.
“If that part of me starts coming out too much, the ability to be patient sometimes exonerates itself for me,” he said. “I tried to make too much happen too quickly.”
He forced throws into tight coverage. He threw costly interceptions. He could look like he was in pinpoint control of the football, then make a mistake so head-shaking it was hard to reckon the difference.
Halliday has a strong arm, and he can both zip throws on a flat line and drop touch passes over the top. He also is fearless.
Washington State receivers coach David Yost once told Halliday the Cougars needed him to toe the line between a really good throw and a really tight coverage throw.
“There’s a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde to his game,” said Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “That’s very much a concern. But I also think that when you have quarterbacks who don’t have elite talent around them that sometimes they try to put too much on their own shoulders and try to make things happen.”
Halliday thinks he handled that pressure better as a senior. He threw one interception in every 32 attempts as a junior and lowered that to one every 48 throws as a senior.
“Can he curb that? He probably can,” said Jim Zorn, the former Seahawks quarterback and NFL coach who is close with Halliday. “But I’m not sure anyone wants to do that with the competitiveness. I think as he develops as a QB and into his team, he’ll learn to have a little more self control.”
He knows he needs to learn how to prepare for an NFL game. He and Washington State coach Mike Leach met on Mondays to go over that week’s game plan, with Halliday having heavy input.
But he has never called protections, a big part of being a pro quarterback, and he played out of the shotgun.
The big question about Halliday, the one he’s had to answer over and over, has nothing to do with ability. Teams want to know if he’s healthy after breaking his leg last season.
Halliday dryly says, “Everybody is just so worried if I’m healthy. I have proof that I’m healthy. People still ask, but I am healthy. I couldn’t be more healthy. I got 100 percent cleared.”
Halliday is slender; he is 6 feet 4 but weighed 199 pounds at his pro day. And though he has proven his toughness at Washington State, his durability at the next level still is a question.
Former NFL coach Jon Gruden mentioned late-round quarterback prospects recently and said, “I like this Halliday out of Washington State.” Rang doesn’t view Halliday as a product of Leach’s offense. He says Halliday has “some legit talent” and thinks he will get drafted on the third day (Saturday).
Until he gets his shot in the NFL, Halliday will squeeze in as much golf as he can, dropping a few cuss words along the way but keeping his emotions and clubs in hand.