Asked if he could match the considerable FitzMagic beard of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Tampa Bay quarterback, Minshew then said, “No, that’d take about a hundred years.” So he has conquered the terrain of the mustache, which has proved plenty lush. It doesn’t hurt that he often answers questions with the convivial use of the word “man,” as after the Stanford game of Oct. 27 when he said, “Man, this team’s just come together so well, man.”
He joins a generation for whom the world’s third-largest country is pretty much a neighborhood. He finished high school in Brandon, Miss. — and never did lose to Pearl while there! — and went to Troy in Alabama. He saw the writing on the depth-chart wall there and went to Northwest Mississippi Community College. He helped win a national championship there and went to East Carolina. He played two seasons there, threw for 3,487 yards in 17 appearances, graduated and committed to Alabama. He got a call from that noted Pacific Northwest scientist, Washington State Coach Mike Leach, who asked if Minshew wouldn’t mind leading the nation in passing, whereupon Minshew switched from Tuscaloosa to the Palouse.
In nine games as the Cougars have gone from an August puzzle of new faces to a November top-10 presence at 8-1 and No. 8, Minshew has thrown the ball a delectable 465 times, 77 more than the Football Bowl Subdivision’s next-most frequent thrower. Some 329 of those passes have gone into the grasp of others — in fact, many others. Thirteen Cougars teammates have caught them, a whopping 10 have caught them in double digits and four — James Williams, Davontavean Martin, Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston Jr. — have caught more than 40.
Everybody’s having more fun than the rest of us.
That includes many the 23,000 or so people of Brandon, Miss., about 14 driving miles east of Jackson, or 1,748 air miles southeast and 2,285 driving miles southeast of Pullman. They’ve taken to eyeballing Washington State, even through the challenging Pacific time zone kickoff times that come about routinely.
“There’s been a few people missing church on Sundays, there’s no doubt about that,” said Bryan Marshall, the principal of Brandon High School. He also said, “Most folks here go to bed around 10:30, 11 o’clock.” And he also said, “Of course, our older crowd, they’ll watch till halftime and just can’t take anymore.”
For Homecoming in late September this year, Brandon held a game in its considerable stadium, then the players finished and went to the dance, while Marshall, some coaches and some boosters did what seemed the thing to do: They fired up the TV on the jumbo scoreboard and stood watching Washington State play Southern California.
“To be honest with you,” Marshall said, “when Pac-12 games were on, we used to just turn them off. Now, I think everybody around here knows everything about the Pac-12.”
He marveled that Washington State could have never imagined “a lot of viewership from Brandon, Mississippi,” but that nowadays, its Brandon ratings have gone “through the roof.”
Their former quarterback already toured Mississippi meaningfully, both 185 miles north of Brandon and 145 miles southeast, as part of the state’s rich junior-college culture with its 14 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges teams, in towns such as Scooba, Senatobia, Poplarville and Booneville. Up north in Senatobia, he quarterbacked Northwest Mississippi to the 2015 NJCAA title game. Down south in Biloxi, he and Northwest won it over Rochester Community and Technical College (Minn.), by 66-13, at Biloxi High School.
That came six years after, for example, Blinn College of Brenham, Tex., won that title behind quarterback Cam Newton.
“Oh, I mean, it does wonders for us” when a player goes from junior college to the bigger light stanchions, said Ricky Webster at the NJCAA offices in Colorado Springs. They go from a lack of attention to a surfeit, and Webster said, “Everyone makes a big deal. We kind of look at it as, ‘We knew all along.’ ” They revel when a player such as New Orleans Saints star Alvin Kamara talks publicly of the value of spending a year among the Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College Blue Dragons. The current starting quarterbacks at Kentucky and Virginia, for two examples, both coursed through junior college.
The case of Minshew has demonstrated the possibility of becoming a sensation in an entirely different region, all while apparently refraining from jerk-dom, seeing how nomads tend to be good at meshing. “One of the best things he did was bond and identify with the team,” Leach said on the Pac-12 Network. “He became a regular guy in our team early, which I think is extremely important, ’cause there’s no time to be shy. There’s no time to be aloof.”
On Oct. 20, Pullman had itself a big smash of a time with a quarterback it never anticipated when that bastion of reflected legitimacy, ESPN’s “College GameDay,” came to town, and Oregon came to town, and Oregon left town glum. Then the son of a former basketball player (mother) and a former Millsaps College (Miss.) football hall of famer (father), a person only 22 who has thrown footballs for real in three of the four continental time zones and driven through the other to reach the latest, said: “It was incredible, man. There was so much energy in town this week. We knew we were going to have to ball that up and use it.”
And: “And then after the game I just started to think, Man, I think I made the right choice coming here, man.”