In happier times, Connor Halliday had just taken a tour of Washington State’s new football-operations building. He noted the outsized murals of WSU greats on the walls, and he said he thought the guy backing him up might be there one day.
That’s 6-foot-4, 208-pound Luke Falk, who has a more pressing assignment this week than renown at WSU: He gets his first college start at Oregon State Saturday, replacing Halliday, who is out with a broken ankle.
Falk will have a trail of curious onlookers, from folks back home in Logan, Utah, to some people down at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village, Calif., possibly even to some observers wondering how he came to be a walk-on at WSU in 2013.
“Luke’s a hell of a player,” says Mike Favero, coach at Logan High.
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Falk, a redshirt freshman, also has an intriguing family background.
His sisters, Alexa, 24, and Natalee, 23, are country singer/songwriters. Go to their website, and you’ll see a story of how they were musicians as early as grade school, had a band called Faces Without Names, and how Alexa later fought an eating disorder, wrote a song called “Deadly Beauty” as a lament to the condition and they performed it to significant acclaim.
Now they simply call the two-women group “Falk,” they live in Nashville, and their mother Analee says they have the same attorney as Taylor Swift.
Their younger brother, unavailable to the media this week, passed for 17 touchdowns as a sophomore at Logan High. Then he had an opportunity to showcase himself at Oaks Christian, so he moved there with his mother.
He was only there a couple of games, says Oaks Christian coach Bill Redell, recalling, “It wasn’t that he got beat out. It was more (the family) had to get back to Utah.”
Oaks Christian’s opener that year, in fact, was against Bellevue High, a 31-21 Wolverine victory. Falk was 22 of 42 for 235 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“He was outstanding,” said Redell, referring to Falk’s overall ability. “We hated to lose him.”
“California kind of blew up on us,” says Analee. “Luke really loves the small-town atmosphere; that’s why he fits in really well in Pullman. It just wasn’t working for us as a family, and for him personally. We gave it our all.”
Transferring back to Logan, Falk had to sit out of football as a junior, usually a key season for recruits. But he was on the basketball team, when WSU assistant David Yost showed up to watch him and see video.
“He liked Luke,” says Favero. “Credit to him and Coach (Mike) Leach for finding him. And (Luke) fell in love with them.”
Still, the Cougars had landed four-star recruit Tyler Bruggman of Phoenix, and like most schools, they weren’t going to sign two quarterbacks.
“We saw a big, strong, tall guy that threw the ball accurately, that got lost in the shuffle,” says Leach. “He had a big senior year, and by then, everybody had their quarterback. We were really interested. We wanted the best walk-on we could find.”
The picture became complete when Cornell of the Ivy League, Falk’s intended college destination at that point, lost head coach Kent Austin to Hamilton of the Canadian Football League.
So Falk walked on at WSU, but earned a scholarship, partly because, Leach says, “He works harder than anybody on the team.” Bruggman, meanwhile, left the program last summer for Louisville.
And when Halliday’s WSU career ended as his leg collapsed under the weight of USC’s Leonard Williams last week, Falk came on and completed 38 of 57 throws for 370 yards.
“He looked like Luke to me,” said Favero. “He really, really excels at reading defenses and understanding matchups. I saw three poor throws and a lot of good throws.”
Leach was similarly encouraged, saying, “Lotta guys would like to throw for 370 yards in their debut. I thought he stepped up without flinching.”
This week could be a new challenge, as OSU, with appreciable videotape of Falk, figures to force him to recognize blitzes and solve disguises. Ironically, Falk’s start comes 10 years after Alex Brink, who would set records at WSU, made his initial start at Oregon State’s Reser Stadium replacing an injured Josh Swogger.
OSU won and made that a rough day for Brink, who was 15 of 41 for 201 yards. Falk hopes to change that script and weave more plot into an already unlikely story.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org