PULLMAN — Over the past six months, since the incident that briefly derailed his college football career, Jayden de Laura probably felt like he was in no position to turn down advice and knowledge from those with more wisdom and life experience than Washington State’s 19-year-old quarterback.
De Laura’s elders have played a role, certainly, but it was someone who’s celebrated fewer birthdays than even de Laura who delivered the message that really hit home.
At some point while de Laura served a four-month suspension from WSU’s football team after being arrested in February on suspicion of driving under the influence — a charge Whitman County District Court found him not guilty of last week — the quarterback heard from his high school-age brother, an aspiring college receiver entering his junior year at Honolulu’s Saint Louis.
Jaysen de Laura’s words — or maybe it was the courage he showed to address the topic at all with an older sibling — left a surprising imprint on Jayden.
“For me I would say (the conversation) with my brother,” de Laura said Friday when asked to recall a meaningful conversation from the past six months. “He kind of told me like, what am I doing? He kind of told me I was wasting my time.”
For the first time since WSU’s season-ending loss at Utah in December, de Laura was back on the field taking snaps and slinging passes in the No. 4 jersey, as one of three QBs in a race to win the Cougars’ starting job along with returning backup Cammon Cooper and Tennessee graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano.
De Laura won the job last year and reaffirmed why in the season opener, registering three touchdowns — two passing, one rushing — to lead the Cougars past Oregon State in Corvallis. But as the season progressed, flashes of excellence were often followed by freshman lapses and less than one month after the finale at Utah, second-year coach Nick Rolovich reached into the transfer portal and added Guarantano to pad the team’s depth and inject more competition at QB.
Then came Feb. 6, 2021, the day de Laura was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign in the College Hill district of Pullman and driving the wrong way on a one-way street. De Laura was cleared of all charges related to the incident, but the full repercussions of spending six months away from football remain unclear when it comes to his place on the depth chart. Nonetheless, de Laura believes he gained perspective and maturity during his hiatus.
“For me, it was just not really being selfish,” he said. “Not just putting myself first but putting other people before me. My family. Not making decisions, just thinking of myself. The team. So I feel like that’s where I grew the most this offseason.”
Because Rolovich subscribes to the belief that freshmen shouldn’t speak to the media until after their freshman season, Friday marked de Laura’s first formal interview with local reporters who cover the Cougars.
“Oh, a lot,” de Laura said when asked if he missed the game this spring. “It was crazy. It was hard. But like I said, just glad to be back right now.”
In 2020, the Honolulu native completed 78 of 129 (60%) passes for 886 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Dividing the season in half offers a different outlook of de Laura’s rookie campaign. In the first two games against Oregon State and Oregon, he passed for 548 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. In the final two against USC and Utah, he passed for 338 yards, threw one TD pass and was picked off three times.
“I would say for me it was good to get those four games in,” de Laura said. “I would’ve wanted more games but at the same time now, I kind of feel out the game speed, I know what to expect. So it’s just getting it together and putting all the pieces together with the team.”
It was presumed last season de Laura wouldn’t have much trouble adapting to Rolovich’s run-and-shoot system given the QB played in the same offense at Saint Louis. Rolovich’s version of the run-and-shoot offers a few more wrinkles especially as it pertains to the run game, but de Laura indicated most other aspects of the offense were identical.
“Other than RPO (run-pass option), we didn’t really run that in high school, but passing and everything is pretty much the same thing,” he said. “It’s a little more added stuff here but, all in all, it’s pretty much the same concepts.”
De Laura also discussed his approach to WSU’s ongoing QB competition, which seems far from settled less than 30 days until the season opener against Utah State.
“I would say just keep my head down and work,” he said. “Just worry about myself and can’t really control who’s going to be on the field the first game. It’s all up to the coaches. Just got to do what I can do.”