Ben Gulbranson could have transferred. He didn’t want to go to another high school. Newbury Park was his hometown school. Even the prospect of struggling to win games his senior year didn’t deter him.
“I didn’t go anywhere else. You know, I wouldn’t want to,” Gulbranson said. “That’s the best decision I ever made ‘cause I get to play ball with my buddies, the guys that grew up in town. That’s really what high school football is all about — playing with your friends.”
In his final game, Gulbranson wanted to send his teammates out with a victory against Moorpark. The Panthers fell behind early, but Gulbranson kept rallying his team. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pro-style quarterback threw for big gains when he had time. He showed his athleticism escaping sacks and running for big yardage when he didn’t.
Moorpark took a two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter. Gulbranson wouldn’t let the Panthers quit. He used his dual-threat ability to get the ball down the field and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers defense got the ball back to Gulbranson with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
“Two other games this past season, we’ve been in a similar situation and both times we scored a touchdown, so I knew if we could get the ball back that we had a pretty good chance to win,” Gulbranson said.
It was not to be. Gulbranson did all he could. A holding call negated a long completion and a sack set up a fourth and 33. Gulbranson faced pressure as he had all night, rolled to his right and connected with a receiver between two defenders more than 25 yards down the field, but the receiver couldn’t break free and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
Gulbranson couldn’t lead a come-from-behind win, but the game showed his growth and potential as a three-star prospect that will be continuing his football career in January when he enrolls at Oregon State. Gulbranson ran for 179 yards against Moorpark, a marked improvement after running for negative yardage in five games his junior season.
“When things break down, I think that’s when I’ve really gotten better at just being more athletic,” he said. “Just being able to make plays when the play call doesn’t beat the coverage and being able to keep the play alive, playing like high school football, playing like backyard ball.”
Finding a new home
Gulbranson was originally committed to California. But there was a disconnect when the Golden Bears’ offensive staff was reshuffled during the offseason, leading to a de-commitment. Oregon State saw an opportunity and began recruiting Gulbranson hard. A couple of months later, he was set on becoming a Beaver.
“It’s definitely a program on the rise, and in the Pac-12 there’s so much parity that I feel like any team can come out of nowhere. I feel like Oregon State’s really building something special,” Gulbranson said. “They’ve obviously showed the most love for me and I feel like when I get up there, I can compete and play early and that’s something I was looking for. I feel like I really fit great with what their offense is trying to do.”
The Beavers will have open competition at quarterback in the spring. They lose sixth-year senior Jake Luton, who has started the last two years. To increase his chances, Gulbranson intends to be a gym rat and plans to soak up everything he can from coach Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren.
“I’m going to always be in the coaches’ office. I want them to know that. Like constant hours in there and just kind of dedicating all my time towards football,” Gulbranson said. “Obviously I’m supposed to be a student-athlete, but I feel like once I get up there, I’ve got to get caught up to full speed and I’m really looking forward to the grind and commitment.”
As for a potential matchup with Cal? “I’m really glad we’re in the same division. I’m looking forward to that game,” he said.