EWU's Gubrud all-in for national title hunt - Sports Illustrated

EWU's Gubrud all-in for national title hunt

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(STATS) - In an alternate reality, Gage Gubrud might consider himself something of a fun-loving outdoorsman.

That version of the Eastern Washington incoming junior would probably be making routine treks to one of the lakes near Spokane to go wakeboarding, tubing or fishing - something he picked up from his father as a youngster.

The reality, however, is that those pastimes have been pushed aside this offseason, becoming mostly memories of summers gone by.

Still, Gubrud wouldn't have it any other way.

Even after setting the FCS single-season record for passing yards, earning 2016 Big Sky co-Offensive MVP honors and finishing third in the STATS Walter Payton Award voting, the Eagles quarterback has committed himself to an offseason of team camps, watching film, lifting weights and throwing - a lot of throwing.

That's because the only honor Gubrud is interested in this upcoming season is lifting the FCS National Championship trophy.

"There's always room to improve no matter how good you've been in the past," Gubrud said. "I'd like to do better in the leadership area. I want to improve my accuracy because not everything was perfect last year."

"Helping Eastern Washington win a national title is all that's on my mind right now," he added.

Gubrud completed 386 of 570 passes (67.7 percent) for 5,160 yards with 48 touchdowns on the way to breaking three FCS records, seven Big Sky marks and 19 school records last season. But what likely sets him apart is his dual-threat playmaking ability, as he also rushed for an Eagles-record 606 yard by a QB while racking up 411.9 total yards per game.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound McMinnville, Ore., native's drive to improve has led to a No. 2 ranking - one spot ahead of 2016 Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe of Sam Houston State - on STATS' list of the top 10 players heading into the '17 season. He's also rated 16th out of 135 quarterback prospects eligible for the 2019 draft, according to nfldraftscout.com.

EWU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bodie Reeder has been impressed with what he's seen from Gubrud since arriving in February following a three-year stint in the Big 12 working with quarterbacks in Oklahoma State's prolific aerial attack. This past season, he helped the Cowboys' Mason Rudolph rank seventh in FBS with an average of 314.7 passing yards per game.

"This summer, Gage and I have talked extensively about expanding his overall knowledge of our scheme," said Reeder, who quarterbacked Eastern Illinois to the playoffs in 2007 and '09. "Physically, Gage needs to continue to get bigger, stronger and faster."

"It is too early for (NFL talk)," he added. "Gage has the right mindset. He wants Eastern Washington to win, and he wants to maximize his potential. I will say that I have had the opportunity to be around professionals, and he shares some common traits with those players. At some point in the process, skill level takes a back seat to inner drive, composure, mental retention, and focus, along with other variables. He has those intangibles."

Reeder and the Eagles' coaching staff are challenging Gubrud to take on more of a leadership role following the departure of several key players, including 2015 Payton Award winner Cooper Kupp. The Los Angeles Rams' third-round pick will be difficult to replace considering he finished his career with an FCS-record 6,464 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns - second all-time.

As a result, Gubrud is spending a lot of time throwing to his new-look receiving corps as the Eagles look to make a play for their second national championship (2010) after finishing 12-2 and falling to Youngstown State 40-38 in the 2016 national semifinals.

"We're just working on our chemistry," he said. "We lost some key players, but we're replacing them. I'm excited about the guys at receiver and our defense is going to be phenomenal. We just have to continue to work hard. We're headed in the right direction."

Gubrud says he's holding out hope to find time for a trip to the lake this summer, though he admits it'll be difficult to pull off. That's probably because he also might take a summer school course as he continues to work toward a management degree.

"Some day I'd like to own my own business," he confided. "I definitely want to build something from the ground up."

Best bet? That Gubrud's venture will have something to do with the outdoors.