Jake Luton dropped to turf at Washington State’s Martin Stadium after a knockout hit put an abrupt end to his run.
Luton went limp upon impact and stayed motionless while trainers and medical personnel arrived at his side.
He was strapped to a stretcher and loaded into a John Deere utility vehicle. As they made their way across the field, Luton weakly waved his left fist for a moment, just enough to show that the damage could have been worse.
It was eventually evident that Luton was not paralyzed, but the news wasn’t exactly encouraging. He suffered a thoracic spine fracture.
The 2017 season was over and his football future held no guarantees. The prognosis was uncertain. Luton was not.
There was no doubt in his mind that he would be back on the field.
"As soon as I was conscious it was not even a thought," Luton said a few weeks after the injury. "I want to play.
"At the end of the day it was something where I had to take a step back and just think about how lucky I was to come out of it as good as I am. It could have gone a different way.”
That attitude is a big reason Luton has not only been able to overcome hardship through the last couple years, but is in the midst of a pretty darn good season.
And the accolades have started to pour in after Saturday’s six-touchdown performance at UCLA.
Luton spread the ball to several receivers, showed off his chemistry with Isaiah Hodgins and ability to put the ball on target with little space to spare.
He casually unleashed a deep ball that nestled into the hands of Tyjon Lyndsey for a for a 53-yard score.
Then there was the touchdown run, a 19-yard scamper down the sideline and into the end zone, followed by a celebration of the win-clinching moment with teammates.
The football world finally took notice.
He was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week and the CFPA national player of the week, was a Manning Award star of the week and picked to the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great 8.
He was also added to the Maxwell Award watch list and landed nominations to the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award and the 2019 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year.
“I knew I had a good game but I was a little surprised to get that much recognition,” Luton said.
Luton has endured some difficult times as a football player.
Like all quarterbacks, Luton is subject to the armchair critics. They complain that he runs hot, then turns cold. That some throws need more touch. That his mechanics break down when he's not settled in the pocket.
Luton remains undaunted.
He arrived at OSU after a stop at Idaho, where he played eight games as a redshirt freshman and hit 51 of 80 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown.
He made his way to Ventura College and showed off his arm talent with 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns, gaining a few accolades along the way.
Despite the numbers there wasn’t a lot of big name programs breaking down his door. OSU was interested, so Luton found his way to Corvallis.
Luton is now on his fourth offensive coordinator, not exactly the continuity quarterbacks look for to develop.
“I’ve bounced around a little bit and had a few different coaching staff changes so it’s been awesome to just kind of take that next step in the playbook and it’s definitely paid off,” Luton said. “I think just for me personally like the way I feel and the comfort I feel in the offense has really been great.”
Luton showed flashes of his arm talent from the start of his time at OSU, but consistency was hard to come by during that first season in an offense that limited opportunities. And the hit at Washington State sidelined him for the final eight games.
He was cleared to play and made it back in 2018, only to be plagued by more injuries that limited him to eight games and five starts.
There was a bright moment that season when Luton stepped in for the second half at Colorado and led the Beavers to an unlikely 41-34 comeback win in overtime after trailing 31-3 early in the third quarter. Luton completed 28 of 39 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
He finished the season with 1,660 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. That could have been it for Luton, but the NCAA granted him an extra year due to the injuries.
It was was a second chance at a senior season, and Luton has made the most of it so far.
“We saw it a little bit at the end of last year where he was playing at a pretty high level,” offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said. “I think the consistency for a four-quarters deal and staying healthy was something we had a little bit of concern with.”
Even after landing that sixth season, Luton was not automatically declared OSU’s starting quarterback.
His competition with Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia blew through the spring and deep into fall camp before Luton took the job.
There’s no doubt who the starter is now.
“A lot of people go through an injury like that I don’t know if they ever step on the football field,” offensive tackle Brandon Kipper said. “For him to not only step back on the field but to perform the way he’s performing and to have the confidence the way he does it just speaks volumes about who he is as a guy.”