Cougar QB Mike Reilly (WSU photo)
AFTER TWO SCRIMMAGES on the Palouse this spring season, one question begs: Who the heck is Mike Reilly and is he turning Washington State's three-way battle at quarterback into a foursome?
You've got to do some digging to get a read on this 6-foot-2, 195-pound mop-top walk-on from Kalispell, Mont., by way of Kennewick.
Word out of Pullman is that you'd never guess walking by him on campus that he's a football player, let alone suited up for a perennial top 10 team.
But Cougar quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach says Reilly has a good feel for the game -- "taking advantage of the plays he gets to run" and studying hard.
Head man Bill Doba says the kid "has great feet," a great attitude and has been a terrific addition to the program. Another person close to the team says Reilly's style is reminiscent of Jason Gesser's.
And anyone who's watched the last two scrimmages knows he throws the deep ball as well -- and perhaps better -- than any quarterback on the team. He also has knack for putting the pigskin where receivers can catch it, as evidenced by the fact he's completed 15 of 20 passes over the last two Saturdays for 149 yards, one TD and one interception -- a rate of production that far out-distances that of Josh Swogger, Chris Hurd and Alex Brink.
This past Saturday he connected on eight straight -- and it would have been nine, for a TD no less, had Hamza Abdullah not flown in to make the Mother of All takeaways. Reilly also completed a thing of beauty to John Williams on third-and 20, rolling to his left and then firing a tight spiral for a 51-yard gain.
A year ago, Reilly also was being lauded for the accuracy of his deep ball, his touch on shorter routes, and his great vision. But it was the head coach at NAIA Montana Tech in Butte who was doing the talking when he thought the record-setting passer from Flathead High was going to be an Ore Digger.
Reilly reversed field, though, and walked on at WSU last fall. Given the success of Cougar QBs from Montana over the years -- Ty Paine (Billings), Ryan Leaf (Great Falls) and Matt Kegel (Havre) -- the decision may prove fortuitous.
With a 1330 on his SAT and interest in civil engineering, Reilly thought Montana Tech would be a good fit. But in the back of his mind, he knew the school he'd cheered on since he was a kid -- Washington State -- was going to have a wide-open QB race after Kegel graduated. So he called Rosenbach, himself a Montana prep standout before transferring to Pullman High as a junior in 1983. Rosie told him to walk on and see what happened.
Last fall Reilly was on the Cougar scout team, facing off in practice every day against one of the most fearsome defenses in the nation. In fact, if you ask him why he's making such a splash this spring he'll give you three big reasons: Erik Coleman, Jason David and Virgil Williams, the wily old veterans of WSU's secondary last season. They gave him a baptism by fire, putting his development into overdrive. All three, by the way, figure to be in NFL training camps this summer.
Reilly says his goals for this year include making the travel squad and getting some playing time in a game. Farther down the road he wants to compete for the starting job -- though his work so far this spring may put him farther along than he think.
"The guys have given me hard time about some of the newspaper attention," he says. "I haven't done any interviews ever and suddenly I'm getting questions left and right, wondering who this kid is."
Rosenbach says Reilly has a good chance to get some PT down the road and hopes the opportunity to see him play in a game will happen in 2004.
Reilly was a fixture at Kennewick's Kamiakin High -- where he spent much of the 2001 season handing the ball off to All-State back (and current WSU linebacker) Scott Davis -- before his dad landed a new job in Kalispell prior to Reilly's senior year. He initially split time there with Flathead High's returning quarterback, but went on to pass for a school record 2,280 yards. He had 22 touchdown passes and just five interceptions and earned honorable mention Class AA All-State recognition.
Mike Reilly profile
Chris Wolpert contributed to this story.