Simone finding his niche after long road

PULLMAN - If Gino Simone's football career doesn't extend beyond the final half of the 2012 season, his next job could include reeling in potential recruits for Mike Leach.

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  • The senior wide receiver -- in the midst of an unexpected resurgence -- extolled WSU's virtues in an emotional press conference Monday. The 22-year-old has hosted numerous recruits during his time at WSU.

    "I've always enjoyed that," Simone said. "I think it is because I love this school, love this program and everything it has.

    "For me it's always been easy to go about recruiting because I do love this place and want kids to have similar experiences to what I've had and gain the friendships and fall in love with being a Coug."

    Simone's comments came after a three-catch, 83-yard game Saturday against Oregon State. A graduate of Skyline High in , Sammamish, Simone hauled in five catches for 65 yards against No. 2 Oregon three weeks ago. The two performances surprised those who watched Simone battle injuries and inconsistent play virtually his entire career and especially over the past two seasons. He said the struggles made him question his ability despite his sterling prep résumé.

    BY THE END of his junior season in Pullman, he had found himself buried on former head coach Paul Wulff depth chart and behind walk-on freshman wide receiver Bennett Bontemps.

    The coaching change has helped give Simone a chance to salvage his career. Still, he struggled during spring practices. Then came a gradual attitude shift, according to Mike Leach, that helped him leapfrog the team's other wide receivers.

    "I just think he mentally, physically and emotionally committed and some good things are happening," said Leach. "I wish I would have seen this same fella in the spring because I think he'd be even better than he is now, but he's doing some really good things."

    SIMONE CREDITED THE new WSU staff for giving him a tough love evaluation of his starting chances while he dealt with confidence problems. He added that staying healthy and dropping 15 pounds during the offseason (weight the previous regime had encouraged him to add), has helped his progression.

    "This staff has been great," said the 185-pound slot receiver. "They've come in and put a great deal of focus on making guys confident and allowing guys to play fast and not worry about making mistakes. When you play fast and don't really have a worry better things are going to happen for you."

    Eric Morris, WSU's first-year wide receivers coach, said he understood Simone's tendency to tighten under pressure. A former undersized wide receiver for Leach at Texas Tech, Morris said that Simone's conscientious personality actually helps him.

    "You still want a kid where it means something to them when they mess up," Morris said. "You don't want them to get all bent out of shape and so nervous to make a mistake that they play uptight. It's a fine line.

    "If you're a competitor and you mess up it's going to burn. You want to get back in there as soon as possible so you can make it right."

    Simone said his rise up the depth chart is also allowing him to mentor another Cougar receiver experiencing the same success he did his freshman year.

    "Brett (Bartolone's) a good young player who's going to have a great four years here," he said. "He does some good things and has great quickness. I've really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Brett and hopefully steer him in the right direction and impart some knowledge."

    A NATURAL FIT to help young players given his background hosting numerous recruits, Simone's increased production has ironically coincided with WSU's offensive struggles. The Cougars are ranked 100th in the nation in points per game (21.8) entering Saturday's critical home game against Cal.

    Simone said any individual achievements won't hold meaning if WSU can't right their 2-4 start to the 2012 season. Meanwhile, his response to a question about his recent progress might indicate why teammates elected him a game co-captain for the first time this season for Cal.

    "Being in there is always good but beyond that this is a team game," he said. "That's why I fell in love with this game at an early age. Having a little bit of individual success out there really means nothing if the team can't put it all together."

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