Ask Jason Gesser ’02 about the finest decision he’s made and his answer is as pinpoint as each of the 70 career touchdown passes he threw at Washington State.
“Coming to Washington State was the perfect and best decision I made in my life,” he says. “Besides marrying my wife,” Gesser is quick to add, with a laugh. He married his college girlfriend Kali Surplus ’02, a former WSU volleyball player, and the couple has three children.
In his new role as the assistant director of development with the Cougar Athletic Fund, the fundraising arm of the Washington State University Athletic Department, his work includes reconnecting former student athletes with the athletic program and building relationships with fans and donors.
“He is a natural,” says Director of Athletics Bill Moos. “He is obviously a draw. People want to come to events to see and listen to Jason. He is a perfect fit for us.”
And for Gesser, WSU is a perfect fit again.
During his playing career, Gesser wore the crimson color to nearly perfect, and historic, success for the football program. A quarterback for the Cougars from 1998 to 2003, he enriched his college career by leading the Cougars to two 10-win seasons, including a trip to the Rose Bowl and a victory in the Sun Bowl. It’s an impressive résumé that fans enjoy reminiscing about with Gesser.
When he left in 2003, Gesser had to put the crimson aside. He played in the National Football League with the Tennessee Titans, the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders, and the Arena Football League with the Utah Blaze. Then he spent five years coaching high school football in Washington (2006–10), and two years at the University of Idaho (2011–12), where he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He became interim head coach in October 2012. Last season, Gesser was the quarterbacks coach at the University of Wyoming.
“It was hard,” Gesser says of not being able to express his passion for the Cougs when at the other schools. “I wanted to wear my Cougar shirt but I couldn’t.”
When Wyoming fired head coach Dave Christensen after the season, his coaching staff, including Gesser, had to move on as well, giving the quarterback the opportunity to wear crimson once again.
“Jason Gesser has a passion for Washington State University and that was illustrated in the way he played football for the Cougars,” says Moos. “I am thrilled he made the decision to leave coaching and be an administrator, and be one at Washington State.”
In addition to his position with the Cougar Athletic Fund, Gesser, a graduate of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, joins the Cougar football broadcast team. He is working with legendary broadcaster Bob Robertson, Bud Nameck, and sideline reporter Jessamyn McIntyre.
It won’t be Gesser’s first foray into broadcasting. While coaching high school football, Gesser worked at Fox Sports Northwest as a game and studio analyst. “I really look forward to prepping every week,” says Gesser, who will be providing color analysis.
Gesser gave Cougar fans many memories during his days as a player and team captain. “A lot of them talk about the UCLA game,” he says, referring to the 48–27 win against the Bruins, December 7, 2002, that clinched a berth to the Rose Bowl. Gesser threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns on a badly sprained knee and ankle that he injured two weeks earlier against Washington. “Obviously, that is one of my favorite games, too.”
Besides his most memorable games, Gesser is often asked about how he chose WSU. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, he played a variety of sports growing up, including baseball, soccer, and basketball. But he showed the most promise in football. So much so, that playing college ball looked to be a real possibility as early as the ninth grade, Gesser’s second year of organized football.
His dad sat him down for a talk. Because his family did not have the means to pay for college, Gesser knew then that his path to a university would have to be through football. “My dad told me if you ever dream about going to college you have to do it on your own,” he says. “I said, ‘Okay, challenge accepted.’ I had a different mindset from the moment my dad told me that.”
While his friends were at the beach, Gesser was working out, watching film, and pursuing his dream. The hard work paid off. Universities took notice after Gesser led his St. Louis High School team to the state title his junior year, and then repeated the feat as a senior.
Gesser received offers from over a dozen schools and narrowed his list to five: California, Utah, Kentucky, Washington, and Washington State. The trip to Pullman would be the fourth Gesser would take while trying to choose where to go. It would also be his last. “I canceled my fifth trip because I knew I was going to commit here.”
Gesser was leaning toward WSU because of head coach Mike Price, but a trip to a Pullman grocery store sealed the deal. During a winter day, Gesser and his recruiting host Love Jefferson made a trip to get food. Jefferson left his car running to keep it warm.
Worried that someone was going to steal the car, Gesser hurried to get his groceries, although Jefferson took his time. “Ten minutes later, we come out and his car is still there,” Gesser recalls. “I look around and there are a lot of other cars running. That just blew me away, how the town looked out for each other. That’s when I knew WSU was the perfect fit for me.”
Gesser earned his scholarship to WSU, fulfilling the challenge his father gave him. “Even though I was born and raised in Hawaii and had no idea about Washington State until my junior year in high school, I believe the way I was being raised from day one was to be a Cougar.”
And now he is raising his family in the town and university that shaped him.
“Being in Pullman, raising my three kids, it’s pretty special,” says Gesser. “I have the right color back on. It’s good to be back.”