PULLMAN — Connor Halliday will return to his old field of glory Saturday. But when he leads the Washington State football team into Spokane’s Joe Albi Stadium for its Crimson and Gray spring game, it will be to showcase his quarterbacking talents, rather than prove them.
As a high school football player in Spokane, Halliday caught the attention of college coaches with many of his early exploits at Joe Albi. The Ferris High School graduate returns as a record-setting quarterback at Washington State and one of the national passing leaders.
“A lot of people will be there that I don’t even know are coming,” Halliday said. “There will be some surprises, and it’s something I look forward to every
year. It’s really cool. I’m playing Pac-12 football, and I get to go back to the stadium I played high school football in.”
Halliday began last season by throwing five interceptions in the first two games and finished it by throwing five touchdown passes in one half during the New Mexico Bowl. As his interceptions went down, his yards and scores went up, and he ended the year with Pac-12 Conference single-game records for completions, attempts, yards and total offense.
With those successes under his belt, Halliday has spent the spring as the undeniable leader of the offense, a fulcrum on which the rest of the unit can balance.
“He’s definitely improved,” wide receiver River Cracraft said. “The goal after the bowl game was to come together as a team, and I can see we’ve definitely made some strides.”
While Halliday’s improvement was apparent throughout the season, it came through peaks and valleys rather than a steady climb. A prolific game at California was followed by a rough one at home against Oregon State.
A largely forgettable Apple Cup against Washington followed his 488-yard, four-touchdown performance against Utah to make the Cougars bowl eligible.
So for Halliday, spring football was as much about staving off regression and keeping the gains from his previous season as it was about getting more comfortable with his receivers, the offense and coach Mike Leach’s expectations.
It has been a success, according to all parties. Halliday, a fifth-year senior, has been sharp all spring. He has breezed through scrimmages and drills, completing more than half his passes with only one really bad decision that led to an interception — a lofted screen that linebacker Ivan McLennan picked off.
“I think he’s more accurate,” Leach said. “I think he’s more precise. Some of it is because the receivers are more precise where they’re at, when they’ve improved also, which has helped him. So I think it’s all worked together.”
Halliday says his successes this spring are the result of mental improvements, and that he is making safer decisions.
“I know that I’ve come a long way in this offense,” Halliday said. “I know that I’ve come a long way in checking plays and making calls at the line of scrimmage. I know I’ve come a long way in helping out the young guys here.”