Washington State’s football team couldn’t avoid a third consecutive loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but Nick Rolovich commended the Cougars for the effort and courage they showed hours after learning a teammate had been one of the two people shot during an early-morning party near the Pullman’s campus.
After answering questions about WSU’s 24-13 loss to Utah, a somber Rolovich left a Zoom press conference before returning less than a minute later to tell reporters that redshirt junior wide receiver Brandon Gray was in “stable condition” after being critically injured as the result of a gunshot wound.
Moments earlier, the 22-year-old Gray was identified by Pullman police as one of the shooting victims Saturday morning. The other, 23-year-old Liban A. Barre, died at Pullman Regional Hospital. Gray’s status was considered to be “serious but stable,” according to police.
“I know the Pullman community is hurting from the incident last night. One of our teammates was involved in that, Brandon Gray, and our thoughts and prayers are with him,” Rolovich said. “I have so much respect for this team for how they played. I know we didn’t win, I know we weren’t great, but for them to go out and play as hard as they did with the news they got this morning about their teammate, I think is a tribute to their character. All we can do right now is pray and pray for his family.”
Gray, who didn’t travel to Salt Lake City with the Cougars for reasons that are unknown, was transported by helicopter to Spokane shortly after the incident. WSU players were alerted about their team’s involvement prior to Saturday’s 11:30 p.m. PT kickoff at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“When you see something in the news like that, you never expect it to be someone you know,” WSU player Ron Stone Jr. said. “It’s shocking and it’s humbling to know not every day is guaranteed.”.”
“There’s a lot of love in this locker room, a lot of love on this campus. Washington State’s campus,” Stone added. “I think this is a time where we’re really going to start to feel people come together and feel that love and that Coug helping Coug mentality that we all have. But as a team, he’s in our prayers and we’re going to keep praying and we’re looking forward to more updates and more information.”
Many of WSU’s upperclassmen have already dealt with tragedy involving a teammate and in some cases on more than one occasion.
Saturday’s news brought flashbacks of Jan. 26, 2018, the day former WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide in his Pullman apartment. On March 23, 2020, WSU’s football team and the Pullman community were shaken up when safety Bryce Beekman was pronounced dead from an “acute intoxication” of fentanyl and promethazine.
Fifth-year senior right tackle Abraham Lucas said it was tough to learn about Gray’s incident Saturday morning and that the news triggered memories of his former teammates.
“It seems to be a recurring thing around here for some reason. I don’t know why,” Lucas said. “I heard the news and it took me back to Tyler and Bryce. It was difficult when I heard it. I’m thinking about him, I’m praying for him. That’s really all I can do. I know some people don’t believe in that stuff, but I do.”
Gray is a native of Detroit and came to the Cougars in 2018 after a standout prep career at Michigan’s Cass Tech High School. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound wideout has appeared in three games over the last four seasons, making his only career receptions in the 2019 season opener against New Mexico State.
WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun noted Gray’s status in a school statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Brandon and his family and friends. As this remains an open police investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time.”