The curious case of Jeff Tuel

PULLMAN – It is entirely possible that no one in the long history of Washington State football has been forced to endure more interviews after losses than senior quarterback Jeff Tuel.

Quarterbacks, of course, are almost always popular "go-to" sources for the media. It has been Tuel's misfortune to be a talented quarterback at Washington State during a period when most of the players surrounding him were not nearly as talented.

Barring an upset Friday against Washington (12:30 p.m., FOX), the Cougars will lose for the 39th time in 48 tries since Tuel arrived in Pullman as a rail-thin, baby-faced freshman in 2009. Tuel is 3-22 as a starter.

Through all the losses and all the interviews, Tuel has stood tall. Teammates never get thrown under the bus. A positive take is offered whenever possible.

"Great teammate, a great leader," summed up former WSU quarterback Marshall Lobbestael.

Tuel has compiled some of the glossiest passing numbers in the history of a school with a proud tradition of elite quarterbacks, but Tuel's numbers would have been much better if not for a string of injuries. He asks you to spare him your sympathy.

"I'm not going to sit here and worry about things that are out of my control," Tuel said. "I play the game a certain way, and that's as hard as I can."

(career completion %)

1) .613 JEFF TUEL, Fresno (2009-12): Completed a school-record 42 passes in 59 attempts at Stanford this season.

2) .601 Timm Rosenbach, Pullman (1986-87): Led nation in passing efficiency.

3) .584 Alex Brink, Eugene (1991-94) : No Cougar has thrown for more yards.

4) .580 Chad Davis, San Diego (1994-95): A game manager more than a playmaker.

5) .563 Bob Newman, El Cerrito (1965-58): All-Coast performer who led nation in total offense.

6) .555 Marshall Lobbestael (2008-11) : Plagued by injuries much of career, came on strong in 2011.

7) .553 Jack Thompson, Seattle (1975-78): Legendary Throwin' Samoan broke a bevy of NCAA and Pac-10 records.

8) . 547 Jason Gesser, Honolulu (1999-02): The winningest QB in Wazzu history.

9) .543 Drew Bledsoe, Walla Walla (1990-92): No. 1 NFL draft pick in 1993 and prolific pro passer.

10) .538 Ryan Leaf, Great Falls (1994-97): All-American who shattered records and led Cougs to 1998 Rose Bowl.

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Tuel proved that last year when he talked coaches into playing him in the season opener against Idaho State after Lobbestael was forced to start when Tuel became ill.

Early in the game, Tuel found himself scrambling for yardage. Nearing the sideline, he refused to run out of bounds, took a hit and suffered a broken collarbone.

"It would have been nice for him to run right out of bounds, sure," then-WSU coach Paul Wulff said at the time. "But you know, he's a competitor."

That fact has never been questioned since Wulff chose to burn Tuel's redshirt four games into his freshman season. It only seemed appropriate that a man named Wulff would throw an 18-year-old quarterback to the wolves, inserting Tuel into his first college game at USC with the 12th-ranked Trojans leading 20-0 in the second quarter and 75,000 fans roaring their approval.

Tuel, a Fresno native who never drew a sniff from the Trojans or most other Pac-12 (then Pacific-10) Conference teams, promptly silenced the Memorial Coliseum crowd by leading the Cougars on a long, impressive drive. The Cougars lost the game, but they found their quarterback.

Five games and starts later, Tuel's season ended due to a knee injury. He started every game as a sophomore and earned honorable mention all-conference honors, but injuries limited him to three games and two starts last season, and a knee injury in the second game this year sidelined him for two weeks. Earlier this month, he missed the final three quarters of the UCLA game after getting drilled.

"It (all the injuries) sucks, no doubt about it," Tuel said.

"It's unbelievable," coach Mike Leach said. "I mean, most people would have quit. So yeah, he's been through a lot of adversity. He's a tough guy, an example for everybody as far as real commitment to playing football."

Tuel absorbed a brutal beating last month at Stanford, but he passed for a career-high 403 yards despite being sacked 10 times.

"He got back up and kept fighting," Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said. "He's a heck of a quarterback. He doesn't get the credit that he's due. He's a warrior."

The Cougars have sought a medical redshirt year for Tuel, but athletic director Bill Moos estimates the odds of gaining the NCAA's approval at 20-30 percent. Tuel, who has battled for the starting job with Connor Halliday all season, has repeatedly said he might not stay at WSU even if he is granted another year of eligibility.

Pro ball is a possibility, and recent NCAA rule changes permit some college graduates to transfer and complete their eligibility at another school the following season. Tuel is set to earn his communications degree next month.

Right now, Tuel is focused on beating those purple-and-gold guys from the rainy side of the state. The 2010 Apple Cup was the only one Tuel was healthy enough to play in, but he knows enough about the Cougars-Huskies rivalry to have stopped drinking purple Gatorade – "That's my favorite" – years ago.


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