Brandon’s Gardner Minshew leads the nation in passing at Washington State.

College football’s leading passer hails from Brandon, Mississippi, and plays 2,236 miles away in Pullman, Washington. For Gardner Flint Minshew II, there were many, many stops in between.

Minshew’s is a story of persistence and an unfailing belief in his own abilities when so many others doubted him. What you first need to know is that at Washington State, Minshew indeed leads the nation, having completed 215 of 313 passes for 2,422 yards. He has thrown 19 touchdowns, just four interceptions.

That’s fairly excellent for a guy none of the Mississippi schools offered after he shattered passing records in three and a half seasons as a starter at Brandon.

Rick Cleveland

Seriously, Gardner, nobody in Mississippi offered you a scholarship?

“Heck no,” Minshew answers. “All three times. I could have walked on, but no scholarship offers.”

Three times?

“Yes, out of high school, then out of junior college and then as a grad transfer,” Minshew answers.

Strike three, you’re out – only Gardner Minshew is very much in the spotlight – at Washington State.

At Brandon, in 2014, Minshew threw for 3,541 yards and 31 touchdowns, leading the Bulldogs to the South 6A championship. An honor student, he graduated in December and signed to play at Troy where he went on an academic scholarship rather than a football scholarship.

That wasn’t a good fit, so Minshew transferred to Northwest Community College where he led his team to a national championship as a freshman, winning the championship game 66-13. He threw for a gazillion yards and still there were no offers from Mississippi schools, so he chose East Carolina for the next chapter of his college football odyssey.

In two seasons at East Carolina as a part-time starter, he threw for 24 touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions and graduated with a degree in communications. The NCAA’s relatively new rule on early graduates allowed for him to transfer to another school without sitting out a year, so he decided to explore his options.

Last January, Alabama offered him. He committed, as much for the chance to become a graduate assistant coach under Nick Saban as for the opportunity to play for the Crimson Tide. Eventually, Minshew wants to be a college coach.

“I think they thought (Jalen) Hurts might transfer and they were looking for a back-up for Tua Tagovailo,” Minshew says. “I plan to coach and the chance to get a foot in the door there at Alabama was really nice.”

But then Minshew got a call from Mike Leach at Washington State, whose recruiting approach was unique, if maybe a bit brash:

“Gardner, how would you like to come out to Washington State and lead the nation in passing?” Leach asked Minshew.

Minshew decided he would like that mighty fine.

“My heart was still set on playing,” Minshew says. “The chance to play for Mike Leach in his system was too good to pass up. It’s a quarterback’s dream.”

Problem was, he had already missed Washington State’s spring practice when he signed. So, Minshew instead spent this past spring attending spring workouts and meetings at Jackson State where Hal Mumme, Leach’s co-inventor of the Air Raid offense, was then the offensive coordinator.

“Coach Mumme and Coach (Tony) Hughes were super-gracious,” Minshew says “I think it really helped me with the system and terminology when I finally got to Washington State.”

Minshew quickly won the job in fall practices, and, as he puts it, “I haven’t looked back.”

The No. 25 Cougars are 5-1 having lost only to Southern Cal, 39-36. So far, Leach has been good on his promise, because Minshew is leading the nation in passing.

“Gardner is one of the smartest quarterbacks I have ever had,” Leach says. “He has a natural intelligence about him and he is a tremendously accurate thrower. He is an incredibly confident guy, and a really great decision maker. As a quarterback, he sees things and removes the clutter. If you can do that, it is so much easier to play that position. And it helps if you are a good leader and he is certainly that.”

Minshew loves playing for Leach, whom he says, “Lets you know exactly where you stand. If he tells you to fix something, then you better fix it. He has an authenticity about him, he treats everyone the same.”

Minshew, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 215, has adapted to the Pacific Northwest as easily as he had to the Air Raid offense.

“I’m loving it,” he says. “It’s all new. I’ve been to California, Wyoming, Oregon, all places I’ve never been before.”

Gardner Minshew (right) and his dad, Flint Minshew, together on Garnder’s recruiting visit to Washington State last spring

It is a bigger strain on Minshew’s family. His father, who goes by Flint, hasn’t missed a game, making the cross-country flights. His mother, Kim, has stayed home because Callie Minshew, Gardner’s youngest sister, is the reigning Mississippi Gatorade volleyball player of the year at Brandon and in the thick of her season.

You should know this is an athletic family. Flint Minshew was a Millsaps football standout, a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame. Kim played basketball at Mississippi State. Middle daughter Meredith, who is at Mississippi State, is an award-winning dancer.

And Gardner Minshew is a much better athlete than many judged.

Says Leach, “He’s not a fast runner. My guess is 4.8 or 4.9 in the 40, but he has quick feet and he has been a productive runner for us.”

The lack of speed surely is what kept Gardner from being a more highly recruited player in the past. Most college teams, especially in the Deep South, are looking for dual-threat quarterbacks.

Mike Leach gladly will settle for a guy like Gardner Flint Minshew II, who makes up for a lack of foot speed with a quick mind and an accurate arm. That, and persistence.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.