From WSU Student-Athlete to Alumnus and Supporter
July 6, 2006
By Jason Krump
Each June, the Washington State University Athletic Department is based in the Tri-Cities area when the Cougar Tailgate and golf tournament events take place.
The golf tournament is one of several Cougar golf events that occur throughout the state during May and June, but the Tailgate is a happening unique to any other WSU Athletics fundraising event.
Billed as an event that 'brings the Fieldhouse to the Tri-Cities,' the Tailgate offers an opportunity for Cougar fans and supporters to get up close and mingle with the coaches and staff of the WSU Athletic Department.
And it also gives the Cougar faithful an opportunity to bid on some one-of-a-kind auction items.
Near the end of the live auction at this year's Tri-City Tailgate event, a print with the autographs of six Cougar quarterback legends sold for $2,100.
And an endowment for Washington State University Athletics was created.
It was fitting that the print, the first of 315 to be made available for sale to the public, was auctioned at the Tailgate event since both the Tailgate and the print would not have existed if it had not been for one individual - Mark Schuster.
Schuster created the Tailgate nearly a decade ago and has now produced another project - Quarterback U - in his continuing effort to raise funds for the WSU Athletic Department.
The youngest of four sons to Gene and Deanna Schuster and a native of Richland, Schuster's WSU ties run deep.
His elder brother, Mike, was a letterwinner at offensive tackle with the Cougars during the early 1980s. Schuster's other two brothers, Dan and Steve, also attended WSU during the `80s.
Schuster played prep football at Richland High School, where he competed against Drew Bledsoe, who was attending Walla Walla High School at the time. Schuster and Bledsoe soon became teammates as both were part of head coach Mike Price's 1990 recruiting class.
Schuster's football career was soon cut short, however, as knee injuries forced him off the playing field.
But while injuries took away Schuster's opportunity to play for the Cougar football team, it did not diminish his drive to help the Cougars.
Although he left Pullman after graduating from WSU in 1995, Schuster has never really left WSU.
Schuster returned to the Tri-Cities after graduation and joined the local Cougar Club. At Schuster's first club meeting he brought up the idea to have an event where Coach Price would come and talk about the team. That idea, says Schuster, morphed into the Cougar Tailgate.
The first event took place during the spring of 1998. About 125 people attended the gathering, which raised approximately $250.
'We were very excited about that because it was a first-time event,' said Schuster of the money raised.
That first-time event has now grown into one of the major annual fundraisers for Cougar Athletics.
In 2005, the event sold out at 450 people and raised over $30,000 for athletic scholarships, bringing the grand total raised over the eight years of the event to $80,000, according to Schuster.
Schuster's rationale for the Tailgate stemmed from his desire to have a fundraising event that is accessible to everyone.
'I wanted an event that everybody can afford to come to; I have been adamant about a $25 price range for the ticket.' Schuster said. 'My primary rule was to give everybody a chance to meet the coaches, not just big dollar donors. We get everyone from the person who just graduated to the people who graduated 70 years ago, and everyone in between.
'It is important to keep folks engaged from the time they graduate,' Schuster added. 'A person may only afford twenty-five bucks now, but down the road that turns into $2,500. I'm a huge fan of the concept of doing what you can.'
Schuster uses himself as an example.
'I have two little kids and have a third boy on the way,' he says. 'I'm not the prime group to be spending a couple hundred bucks on a round of golf, but I can be kept involved so when my kids are grown-up, maybe I become a big donor.'
With the success of the Tailgate, Schuster looked for other fundraising avenues to contribute to WSU...and to his Coug Room.
'I have a Coug room in my house that I have Coug stuff in,' Schuster said. 'A Cougar Room is a phenomenon somewhat unique for Northwest schools around here. A lot of people have a Coug Room, but you don't hear people with Dawg Rooms, Duck Rooms or Beaver Rooms. I thought this would be something cool for people to have in their Cougar room.'
The 'this' Schuster refers to is the Quarterback U print. 'Quarterback U' is a 20 x 16 print signed by six Cougar quarterback legends: Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, and Jason Gesser.
In a way, Quarterback U is an off-shoot of the Tailgate.
'It morphed out of finding auction items for the Tailgate,' Schuster said of coming up with the concept. 'The artist (Chris Walster) had done a drawing of Jason Gesser when Jason was a senior. He had some flyers he was handing out at the Fieldhouse before one of the Cougar games. I grabbed one of those and I said, `This is real cool, this would be a great Tailgate auction item if I could get some of those and get Jason to sign them.''
Schuster asked Walster if he would mind donating a couple of prints to the Tailgate, which Walster did without hesitating.
'In between, it kind of hit me out of nowhere,' Schuster said. 'I wondered if this would work out if I approached Chris and hired him to do a quarterback print of all six of these guys.'
Once again, Walster signed on without hesitation, and the Quarterback U project was born.
'The thing about all six of these guys is they could not be nicer guys. As a Coug fan, you couldn't be prouder to have alumni like this representing you. All six are class individuals.'
According to Schuster, it took Walster about 45 hours to create the print and about another 45 hours to place the crimson highlights, sign, and title and number each print.
'The nice thing bout the colors on the print is that it's a real good color,' Schuster said. 'There is a little bit on each quarterback. The hand-coloring makes it unique; they are not all going to be the same.'
Now that Schuster had the prints, the challenge was to get the six quarterbacks to sign them.
'The thing about all six of these guys is they could not be nicer guys,' Schuster said. 'As a Coug fan, you couldn't be prouder to have alumni like this representing you. All six are class individuals.'
The first signatures Schuster got were of Thompson and Rypien.
Schuster had arranged to get the signatures of the pair through former WSU employee Brady Crook. Schuster obtained the signatures prior to the 2004 Apple Cup.
'We're in Bohler Gym, three hours before game time,' Schuster said. 'They were telling old stories, Apple Cup stories. I was thinking this is a Coug fan's dream, to be sitting here before the Apple Cup with Jack and Mark in the same room.'
The next quarterback was Gesser, who Schuster contacted through Jason's father (Jim). Schuster anticipated having to fly down to Tennessee (Gesser was with the NFL's Tennessee Titans at the time) but only had to travel to Portland, where Gesser was spending the holidays with his in-laws.
'Jason said to come on down so my brother and I came down and sat around the kitchen table while he signed the prints,' Schuster explained.
'When I first saw it, it was amazing,' said Gesser, who added that he was struck by the color and black and white features of the print. 'It was extraordinary the way it was constructed.'
'I was just playing football and doing what I loved to do,' Gesser added. 'To be a part of this is phenomenal. I love WSU and still do to this day.'
Next on the list was Bledsoe, and Schuster had to travel to Dallas to reach him, which presented another set of challenges - how to transport the prints.
What Schuster did was to purchase a big suitcase, tear out the guts of the suitcase, took high-density foam and custom fit it to accommodate 400 prints.
'They were in there as tight as they could be,' Schuster said.
Schuster says he was more than a little bit nervous about checking the suitcase in.
'I told the airline representative, `This is really important to me,'' he said. 'It survived the trip so my luggage experiment worked.'
After obtaining Bledsoe signatures, next up was Leaf.
Schuster got Leaf to sign them when he was in Pullman last fall to watch his brother, Brady, play for Oregon.
'Ryan signed them after the game,' Schuster said. 'He and his father (John) could not have been nicer.'
Lastly was Rosenbach, who Schuster did not have much of a problem tracking down since he is the quarterbacks coach at WSU.
'It was an honor to be a part of the group of guys who were on the print,' Rosenbach said. 'The people at Washington State come up with innovative ways to raise money, and this was a cool way to do it. It just shows our alumni have a lot of pride in what our football team does, and it was an honor to be a part of it.'
With the signatures in place, the prints are now ready to be sold. Schuster stresses that every single dollar made through the selling of the prints will go to WSU.
The endowment, entitled 'The Schuster Family Endowment,' already has its first contribution from the project, the $2,100 from the live auction at the Tailgate event.
The criteria for which the endowment funds will be directed to are: 1) a quarterback, 2) a football player from the Tri-Cities area, 3) as needed for the football team.
'When people buy this print for $400, $400 is going to the scholarship,' Schuster said. 'My brothers and I are paying for all the cost of this. We are not getting reimbursed one penny. It is a pure donation from my brothers and myself. Every penny of that $400 is going toward the endowment. The end result is it is a unique piece of memorabilia for people to have in their Coug rooms.'
The prints go on sale beginning July 21 at wsucougars.com.
The Quarterbacks of Quarterback U
DREW BLEDSOE - Drew Bledsoe has been a fixture in the NFL since the day he was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1993. During his three seasons at WSU Bledsoe ranked as one of the best quarterbacks ever to wear the Crimson and the Gray at Quarterback U. He began his career as a true freshman in 1990 by starting the final five games of the season. Two years later he finished his career leading WSU to a thrilling 31-28 victory over Utah in the Copper Bowl. During his career Bledsoe, who came to WSU from Walla Walla, threw for 7,373 yards and 46 touchdowns. In 1992 he set single-season records for passing yards (3,246) pass attempts (432) and pass completions (241). He also established five single-game records, including 476 passing yards and 468 total offense yards against Utah in the Copper Bowl. Since then he has become one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL. It took Bledsoe just four years to lead New England to the Super Bowl and at age 22 he became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to play in the Pro Bowl. Bledsoe and Jim Plunkett are the only quarterbacks in Patriot history to start the first game of their careers. Although injured and on the sidelines much of the Patriots' 2001 Super Bowl championship season, Bledsoe came in for an injured Tom Brady to lead the Patriots to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. After the 2001 season, Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills, where he played three seasons before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 2005.
JASON GESSER - Jason Gesser was the first player in Washington State history to be elected captain three times and the first player to record two seasons with over 3,000 yards passing and total offense. Hs 3,498 passing yards in his senior season placed him second in WSU history behind Ryan Leaf (1997) and right above Drew Bledsoe's 1992 mark of 3,246. Gesser finished his college career fourth in career TD passes in the Pacific-10 Conference, only seven behind Stanford's John Elway's total of 77. After his college career he held the following records; most wins by a quarterback (27), most wins as a starting quarterback (24), career starts by a quarterback (34), total offensive plays (1,357), total offensive yards (9,007), pass attempts (1,118), pass completions (611), passing yards (8,830), touchdown passes (70), touchdown passes consecutive game (25), multiple touchdown pass games (21), games with TD passes (31), touchdown responsible for (74), 200-yard passing games (27) and 200-yard total offense games (27). In his senior year (2002-03) Gesser started 13 games and was named All-American first team by College Football News and had honorable mention All-American by CNNSI.com. Gesser was All-Pac-10 first team pick by the league's coaches and Pacific-10 Conference Co-MVP on offense. After leaving WSU, Gesser was with the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League (2003) and later the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
RYAN LEAF - Ryan Leaf helped take the Cougars to where they had not been in 67 years, the Rose Bowl. During the memorable 1997 season, Leaf set six single-season school records and five Pac-10 single-season marks. Nationally, Leaf ranked second in passing efficiency (161.18) and third in total offense (3,583 yards, 325.7/game). With a berth to the Rose Bowl on the line, Leaf threw for 358 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 41-35 win over Washington, the first victory by WSU over UW at Seattle since 1985. At the Rose Bowl, the Cougars pushed the top-ranked, and eventual national champion, Michigan Wolverines to the last play before falling 21-16. Leaf threw for 331 yards for the Cougars. That year, Leaf was a finalist in balloting for the prestigious Heisman Trophy which is given annually to the best college football player. He finished third in voting, behind winner Charles Woodson of Michigan, and runner-up and fellow quarterback Peyton Manning of Tennessee. Leaf left WSU after his junior season as the school's career leader in touchdown passes (59), career touchdown passes responsible for (72) and yards per play total offense (6.89). In addition, with 7,435 career passing yards, Leaf fell only 385 yards shy of Jack Thompson's school record in that category. In the professional ranks, Leaf played for the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks. He is currently the quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M University.
Timm Rosenbach - Currently an assistant coach with Washington State, Timm Rosenbach set his share of standards as the Cougars' quarterback in the late `80s. Rosenbach set WSU single season records in 1988 for total offense (3,422), passing yards (3,097), touchdown passes (24) and touchdowns responsible for (34). His total offense yards and passing yards per game were also Pacific-10 Conference records. He also had the highest quarterback rating in the nation that year, completing 218 of 338 passes with just 11 interceptions and 24 TD throws. Highlights of the 1988 season include WSU's win at UCLA, who were ranked number one in the nation that week; and an Aloha Bowl win over Houston, Christmas Day. Rosenbach threw for 272 yards and two scores against UCLA. Rosenbach would later play for the Arizona (then Phoenix) Cardinals in the National Football League. Rosenbach was with the Cardinals for four years, and then spent a year (1994) with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League. In 1995 he signed a contract to play with the New Orleans Saints, but had to give up his career before the season because of a ruptured disk in his back. He also missed the 1991 season with the Saints because of a knee injury. After several years in private business, Rosenbach began coaching in 1999 at Ambrose University in Iowa as quarterbacks coach. When his Cougar teammate Paul Wulff was named Eastern Washington's head coach in 2000, Rosenbach joined the staff as a part-time coach for one season, then moved into a full-time role as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2001. Rosenbach was at Eastern Washington University for two seasons before returning to WSU as an assistant coach in 2003.
MARK RYPIEN - Success and Mark Rypien are no strangers. They seem to have been packaged together ever since his high school days at Shadle Park in Spokane. Rypien has already had enough success to earn a spot in halls of fame representing all three levels of football he's played. After completing one of the most illustrious sports careers in the history of Washington high school athletics, Rypien brought his talents as the nation's top prep quarterback to WSU. After record-setting performances for the Cougars (1981-85), Rypien moved onto the National Football League, teaming up with Washington and leading them to the 1991 NFL championship. During his prep career Rypien earned all-state honors in football, basketball and baseball. The former Hertz High School Athlete of the Year led Shadle Park to state championships in baseball and basketball and to five GSL titles. At WSU, Rypien's 403 yards passing and 412 yards in total offense in 1985 were both school records and by season's end he had established himself number two on WSU's all-time passing and total offense lists. The former Cougar co-captain earned All-America honors in 1984 and 1985 and was named the top quarterback in the Pacific-10 Conference in 1985. He completed his collegiate career playing in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. In the latter he threw two touchdown passes 49 seconds apart in the fourth quarter to lead his team to a 31-17 win. A sixth round draft pick by the Redskins in the 1986 NFL draft, Rypien became a fixture at quarterback for Washington, earning MVP honors in the 1992 Super Bowl. His play has also earned him two Pro Bowl selections. In 1993 Rypien established a fully endowed scholarship at WSU in the memory of his father Robert, a long-time supporter of youth sports in the Spokane area. The scholarship is awarded each year to a Spokane area athlete competing in football or baseball.
JACK THOMPSON - Known through much of his career as the 'Throwin' Samoan,' Jack Thompson became one of the most prolific passers in Pacific-8 Conference and NCAA history following three record-breaking seasons, 1976-77-78. Thompson came out of nowhere in 1976 as a sophomore under head coach Jackie Sherrill. He became the most prolific single-season passer in WSU and conference history, setting six league and Cougar records. By the end of his career Thompson had thrown 1,086 passes, completing 601 for 7,818 yards and 53 touchdowns. His 7,818 yards was a three-year NCAA record and in all he set six WSU career marks and an equal number of Pac-8 standards. He generated 7,698 yards in total offense during his career, the third highest total in NCAA history. He also was the first junior in NCAA history to top the 5,000-yard mark in passing. Thompson was a Sporting News first-team All-America pick in 1978 and won all-league first-team honors as a sophomore and senior. Twice Thompson finished high in the Heisman Trophy balloting. He played in the 1978 Hula Bowl and was MVP of the 1978 Challenge Bowl. The third player drafted in 1978, he spent three seasons with Cincinnati, then his final two NFL years with Tampa Bay. Thompson was born in American Samoa and prepped at Evergreen High in Seattle. He is only the second Cougar football player to have his jersey number (14) retired. The other is Mel Hein (7).