One of the lasting memories from last football season, for me at least, was the snow-blanket battle between Washington State and Utah in Pullman. Not just because of the game and its repercussions for the program, but because of the individual performance of Connor Halliday. After a terrible first half, Halliday led the team back and nearly won the game in overtime, only to see the comeback bid fall short.
We later found out what Halliday was playing through. I still remember the hit, noticing right away that something was wrong with Halliday at the time. It reminded me a lot of what happened to Jeff Tuel against Oregon State -- a hit so hard that it causes the quarterback to freeze up and attempt to shake the cobwebs. It didn't look good.
After the game, Halliday was nowhere to be found. It's customary for the starting quarterback to do an interview session with the media, but after waiting until everyone cleared out Halliday was still missing. Nobody knew where he was -- WSU media relations would disappear to go find him a couple times as we waited, only to come back empty-handed and, honestly, confused as to where he was.
The next morning, while driving to Seattle, I made a few phone calls and sent a few messages to see what happened to him. Somewhere near Washtucna, I was told he was in the ICU -- the product of a lacerated liver that he suffered on the hit that stood out the day before. The only words that came out of my mouth were "Holy sh*t."
Perhaps that's what endears Halliday to Washington State fans and outsiders. We only saw a glimpse of him last season -- a huge performance in a win against Arizona State and a gutsy one against Utah -- before he was gone.
Now he's back, fully healthy after sitting out most of the spring while the coaching staff limited his participation, and ready to compete for the starting job. Over at the Seattle Times, Bud Withers has a great look back at the Utah game, as well as a look forward at what may lie ahead for Halliday.
It went to overtime, and Halliday caught a blow on the bench next to Marshall Lobbestael, the quarterback he had displaced.
"I kind of put my head on his shoulder and fell asleep a little bit," Halliday said.
Lobbestael roused Halliday up, but overtime was a mess for him - an intentional-grounding penalty and a final interception. Soon Halliday was in the locker room. Lobbestael and the other injured quarterback, Jeff Tuel, helped him remove his pads.
He soul-searched about continuing football, and the answer kept coming up the same: Bring it on.
"On the football field is the happiest I've been in my entire life. That's what I live for."
It's impossible not to like Halliday. He's easy to root for and the quick glimpse we got of what he's capable of last season makes it hard not to wonder where his ceiling is.
But it is, as Withers notes, unlikely Halliday takes the starting role this season. Halliday will battle, though. He'll push Tuel and make the team better this fall -- something Halliday, ever a team player, noted in his interview with Withers.
The Cougars are in good hands at quarterback, whether Tuel or Halliday is under center. And they can't go wrong with either being the face of the team.