And we’re gonna be alright / Dry your tears and hold tight / Can’t you tell I got news for you / Sun is shining and so are you.
Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso
My first semester at Washington State University wasn’t an easy one. Pullman, Washington was about as far out of my comfort zone as it was possible to get; a tiny, rural town far away from anything resembling an urban center. Woodinville, at the time, had a more rural feel to be sure but this was a whole other ballgame. I had plenty of friends in high school, but practically none of them decided to head to the Palouse; what few people from school I knew that were at WSU were more like acquaintances. I felt as alone as I ever had in my life.
Thanks to a supportive family, though, I got through that first four months at WSU and, gradually, managed to make more friends, meeting my now wife and people who are still among those I care the most about in the world.
Change, for some people, yours truly included, is not easy. That does not seem to be the case for Gardner Minshew.
He’s as close to what we’d consider a modern day vagabond as one can get. This will be his fourth team since leaving high school in Brandon, Mississippi, though this is easily the furthest he has ever been from home. Before the summer began, Minshew had to choose between the Washington State Cougars and Alabama Crimson Tide to finish his collegiate eligibility. For many, that choice would seem obvious; Alabama will likely be competing for a national title again, but Minshew would be a distant third place, at least, in what has been a fairly publicly contentious starting quarterback battle. Though he is in a quarterback competition at WSU, he’s facing players who lack the pedigree and experience of the ones he would’ve competed with at Alabama. The playing time, and thusly the ability to be in front of NFL scouts, was much easier to come by here.
But it shouldn’t have been the case.
I’ve struggled, for months, to write or talk about Tyler Hilinski. The joy with which he played football, the desire to just pitch the ball all over the damn yard and have some fun, was infectious. The starting job, though Mike Leach may have said differently just to try and keep the media on its toes, was decidedly his coming into this season and likely for 2019.
I cried a lot in the intervening days after his death. How a young man with so much promise, so much outward happiness, could take his own life, I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t know Tyler personally but I even wondered if there was anything I could have done, should have seen, or could have said that would’ve helped him.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about depression; how a person can suffer and struggle in silence until the day they end their lives. I think we all have. I’m not sure how much it can help with the hurt for any of us, especially Tyler’s family. But I can now at least understand how a person gets to that point without anyone knowing it.
My heart still aches for him. For his mother, his father, his siblings, his closest friends. I cannot imagine their pain but hope that, in some small measure, our community has helped them through this. The Hilinskis’ strength in starting the Hilinski’s Hope foundation has been a sight to behold, something that, God forbid the day comes that I have to go through the same ordeal, I can find strength in.
Needless to say, the situation Minshew steps into is not the normal “take over for a departing senior quarterback”. This is one is likely different than he or anyone else has ever experienced. How do you come in and play quarterback somewhere you shouldn’t have to be?
Hopefully, the answer is: just like he would anywhere else. By every account so far, Minshew has had no trouble picking up the Air Raid and isn’t afraid to have some fun with his receivers. The Air Raid is supposed to be just that: fun. And Minshew appears to be dedicated to making it just that. Something we all knew Tyler was dedicated to as well.
Just be yourself on Saturday, Gardner. Everything else will fall into place.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Gardner Minshew, your most important person against the Wyoming Cowboys.