Lobbestael shines through adversity at WSU

Marshall Lobbestael discusses the game with WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, left, and head coach Paul Wulff. - John Fisken / Whidbey News-Times
Marshall Lobbestael discusses the game with WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, left, and head coach Paul Wulff.
— image credit: John Fisken / Whidbey News-Times

Marshall Lobbestael’s Oak Harbor High School football career had a fairy-tale feel, including a wish-upon-a-star state title in 2006.

He parlayed that success into a scholarship to Washington State University where his career turned from a fairy tale to a twisted fable. In this version of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” Aesop was channeling Stephen King.

Lobbestael’s dogged persistence didn’t result in first place, first string or first-team all-conference. It did, however, prove as a person and a teammate, he is first class.

Suffering through a series of setbacks, Lobbestael had every right to be bitter, but he handled them with maturity and integrity. Why? “Because I love being a Coug, love WSU.”

One of the first hurdles was a coaching change after Lobbestael’s freshman year. Since he wasn’t recruited by the new coaching staff, he “wasn’t their guy,” as Lobbestael’s father, Ric Lobbestael, said. It created an atmosphere of “one mistake and you are out,” he said.

In addition to receiving some starts because of injuries to other quarterbacks,  Marshall Lobbestael worked his way to the starting job three times. Three times he was replaced.

Ric Lobbestael said it was difficult on his son, who didn’t want to become the starting quarterback “by default.”

Marshall Lobbestael red-shirted his first year, then began the next as third string. Injuries pushed him into the starting lineup and he started three more games before suffering a serious knee injury that ended his season; he had a second minor surgery the following summer.

Slowed by the injury, he split time in the first two games of his sophomore season with senior Kevin Lopina, then started the third and the fourth.

Then the coaches decided to go with freshman Jeff Tuel. A season-ending injury to Tuel gave Lobbestael another shot, but a few games later, he was replaced by Lopina.

Lobbestael sat his junior year as Tuel started throughout.

Sickness and injury struck Tuel at the beginning of this season, and Lobbestael took over and took off. He rattled off three straight 300-yard games, the first time a Coug had achieved the feat since 2007.

Although Lobbestael led the Cougars to a 3-2 record and was among the nation’s leading passers, Tuel was handed the starting job once he was healthy.

Two losses later, Tuel was re-injured and finished for the year.

Lobbestael started in a loss to UCLA, and then after two series against Arizona State, was benched for freshman Connor Halliday.

Despite having the second highest season completion rate in school history, Lobbestael sat the next week -- Senior Day at WSU -- as Halliday played the entire game and the Cougars lost.

Halliday was hurt and Lobbestael was thrust back into the starting lineup for the season finale at Washington.

As Ric Lobbestael said in regard to his son’s career: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

His son got the message and handled all the adversity with class. He never saw Tuel and Halliday as the enemy trying to steal his job.

“The quarterback group,” Marshall Lobbestael said, “as a whole is really close…We have a great relationship.”

He added that it was important that the quarterbacks had each other’s back, and that he “trusted the coach’s decision to give us the best chance to win.”

He said sitting on Senior Day was hard, but “even though I didn’t play, I feel like I had a role in the game, and when you have a strong relationship and love for a guy in there like Jeff and Connor, it makes its easier to support them.”

When he was supplanted by Tuel early in his career, Lobbestael did consider transferring, but his affection for Washington State won out: “I wanted to stick it out and try to help the team however I could whether I was playing or not.”

He added, “I knew I had tried my best and knew that I had to continue to prepare myself like I was the starter…so I could be ready if the team needed me.”

Lobbestael said his high-school days helped him handle the difficulties he faced at WSU: “Looking back on how fun it was helped me find joy in the college game and get back to having fun and playing my game even when I struggled or when times were tough.”

Ric Lobbestael saw his son grow through his college career: “He is more mature, developed inner strength; and he now sees problems as solvable, not defeating. I admire him; he didn’t pout. He learned to leave the baggage behind.”

WSU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy called Lobbestael “a great person” and “a great teammate.” He added, “He has a great work ethic and passion for the game….I would recommend Marshall to the people I hold dearest to my heart.”

Head coach Paul Wulff said, “He could have left at any time, but I’m so proud with how he hung in there. He stayed with this football team to help us, and he did a lot of good for this team in so many ways behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t understand.”

Lobbestael left his mark in the Washington State record book as well. He finished ninth on the all-time touchdown pass list with 26, and was eighth with 335 career completions and 10th with 603 attempts.

Lobbestael will graduate this spring with a major in psychology and minors in human development and English.

He said when he thinks about the future, “coaching at the high-school level” keeps coming up.

He said, “I had great coaches in all three sports I played in high school that had a very positive influence on me as both a person and an athlete, and I would like to have a chance to have that same influence on high-school students and student-athletes.”

Sounds like this fairy tale isn’t finished.

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