Sept. 11, 2002
By JOHN K. WILEY
Associated Press Writer
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Jason Gesser laughed when told Ohio State coach Jim Tressel described him as a big, strong kid.
Sure, last season's Pacific-10 Conference offensive leader can throw a 40-yard touchdown pass, but Gesser knows what he is.
"I'm more like guys like Drew Brees, Cade McNown and Jake Plummer," said Gesser. "Guys that aren't the biggest and fastest."
The 6-foot-1, 207-pounder from Honolulu calls himself fragile but highly competitive. He played in last year's Sun Bowl with a broken right, throwing hand. He missed the final two games of his sophomore season with a broken left leg.
He's healthy this season, and his Cougars are 2-0 heading into Saturday's game at No. 6 Ohio State. Gesser is finding that scrambling less is keeping tacklers away. And that's the way he likes it.
"I really haven't had to scramble. I've been able to sit back in the pocket. I'd rather do that any day than take hits," said Gesser, well aware that a top effort against the Buckeyes could help his Heisman Trophy chances.
His Heisman campaign began with Washington State officials spending $10,000 to promote Gesser. Now, it's his job to make the investment pay off.
"Everybody knows if we do win, it will be a big win," said Gesser. "The thing that's going to help the most is getting that `W'."
But it is only the third game of the season, and there will be plenty of other opportunities.
"I'm not up for the Heisman. Our team is up for the Heisman," he said. "You can't have a guy going into New York with a 6-6 record. You've got to be 11-0, 12-0, a conference champion, be a leader on your team and have good numbers."
His numbers in two games this year have not been spectacular, averaging 231 yards passing per games and four touchdowns, placing him well below most of his Pac-10 counterparts.
Gesser led the conference last year with nearly 3,000 yards and 25 TDs in a 10-2 season, one of the best ever for Washington State.
That put him on many Heisman lists.
"I really don't care," he said. "All I care about is getting those W's. I'm looking at worrying about the things I can control and that's helping my team win games. If I'm doing that, I get looked at as a Heisman candidate, then that's great."
Washington State's Ryan Leaf finished third in Heisman balloting after the 1997 season, the first time the Cougars had been to the Rose Bowl in six decades.
Gesser is on pace to surpass school career passing and total offense records set by Leaf, Drew Bledsoe, Jack Thompson and Timm Rosenbach.
Gesser is currently less than 2,000 yards behind Thompson's passing record of 7,818 yards and less than 2,000 yards behind Thompson's total offense record of 7,698 yards.
An all-state quarterback out of St. Louis High in Honolulu, Gesser chose Pullman because of Washington State's reputation as a quarterback's haven.
"I was looking for an offense I thought I could thrive in and do things in," Gesser said.
The school's tongue-in-cheek Heisman campaign includes the 25-foot by 15-foot banner hanging from a grain elevator at Dusty, Wash., 40 miles from campus. A similar banner on a coffee company's tower next to Interstate 5 in Seattle was removed last week because it lacked the proper permits.
"It's perfect," Gesser said of the campaign. "It fits me. It fits the university perfectly. I'd rather be on the side of a grain elevator than on the side a building in Manhattan."