Colorado State’s players erupted in cheers upon hearing they would play in the school’s first bowl game since 2008.
Garrett Grayson’s adrenaline really started pumping when he heard they’d play Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl.
“It’s personal,” the junior quarterback said. “I definitely want to win this game.”
Pullman was among the campuses Grayson visited after a stellar career at Heritage High School.
Grayson was the 4A Greater St. Helens League offensive player of the year in 2008 and ’09, surpassing 10,000 career passing yards. But on his visit, he learned WSU coaches wanted him to play defensive back.
“I said ‘With all due respect, I’m going somewhere else,’ ” Grayson said in a phone interview last week. “I know I can play quarterback at the next level.”
His belief in himself is now supported by proof. Grayson set a Colorado State record for single-season passing yards with 3,327, breaking a mark that stood since 1983.
Road to redemption
Success didn’t come easy. Grayson had to win the starting quarterback job in fall camp. He also had to earn back the respect of teammates and coaches.
Grayson started five games to open the 2012 campaign, but had his season ended by a broken collarbone.
After the injury, he fell into a funk.
“I was off doing my own thing and not really around the team,” Grayson said. “I did lose some respect from those guys.”
An introvert by nature, Grayson started working on being a leader off the field as well as on. He became a fixture in the weight room and at team gatherings.
“Part of the learning was knowing when to speak up,” he said. “Not yelling just to yell, but to say what needs to be said. Sometimes it’s picking up a teammate when they’re down.”
Grayson won the starting job, but faced a new round of scrutiny. One week after a season-opening loss to rival Colorado, he completed just 12 of 29 passes and threw two interceptions in a loss to Tulsa.
Many wondered whether Grayson was cut out for the job.
“I had belief in Garrett,” Rams coach Jim McElwain said. “He was the right guy for the job. He had to overcome some things as far as understanding how to play the position and preparation to play the position, and I think he has grown immensely with that.”
A vote of confidence from McElwain helped rally Grayson.
“After those games I was pretty low,” Grayson said. “I went up and had a talk with coach Mac … that kind of changed the outlook of the entire season for me. I knew after the games I played that he still had confidence in me. I didn’t eat there for about two days because I was so depressed.”
Facing FCS opponent Cal Poly, Colorado State’s third game was easy to overlook. But a moment before that game resonated with Grayson.
It came courtesy of senior center Weston Richburg, the best player on the team,
“Weston said to me, ‘Gunslinger! Gunslinger! Just go out there and have fun and sling it,’ ” Grayson told the Denver Post earlier this season. “That meant a lot, because everybody respects Weston. That makes you feel good about yourself. It gives you confidence. He says that to me before every game now.”
Grayson completed 21 of 30 passes for 297 yards in an easy win over Cal Poly. But the following week was the point Grayson said everything clicked.
The Rams traveled to Tuscaloosa to face two-time defending champion Alabama.
A 39 1/2-point underdog, nobody gave the Rams a chance of keeping it close.
In front of 104,000 fans, Grayson hung in the pocket against a vicious pass rush, completing 24 of 38 passes for 228 yards and no interceptions.
The Rams were within 17-6 headed into the fourth quarter before Alabama scored two late touchdowns.
The turnaround had begun. The next two games, Grayson surpassed 300 yards and had three touchdowns against both UTEP and San Jose State.
After Alabama, Grayson had just one game where his quarterback rating was under 100. After starting 2-4, the Rams went 5-2 for their first winning season since 2008.
His 36 pass completions against Boise State were a single-game Colorado State record, and his 21 touchdown passes are third on the school’s single-season list.
Grayson’s best game was the regular-season finalé, a 58-13 win over Air Force. He completed 26 of 34 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
He set the CSU record late in that game. The teammates whose respect Grayson had to re-earn showered him with handshakes and hugs.
The turnaround was complete.
“It’s big for me,” Grayson said of the record. “But it’s bigger for the team because I couldn’t have done it without them.”