Youth breathing new life into Cougar football

LOS ANGELES -- Patience has been the key word being preached to players, fans and supporters by Washington State coach Paul Wulff. But on the heels of a 27-6 loss to USC in the LA Coliseum Saturday night, patience, as it turns out, might yield rewards this year.

Paul Wulff has set out to revitalize the Washington State football program by reshaping it from the ground up. The very foundation of his system is to promote a culture of family, character and pride. All three of those elements were on display before the game, during the game and after the game with the No. 12 ranked Trojans.

While the remaining veterans on this Cougar roster are providing leadership, it's the young student-athletes who are contributing to the evolution of a football program that hit rock bottom last season.

Unless you were purposefully turning your head from what was to be the slaughter of the Cougars before the masses in the storied LA Coliseum, another bright light began shining at the end of the tunnel Saturday evening.

TRUE FRESHMAN Jeff Tuel earned the opportunity to achieve something most incoming college freshmen football players only dream of -- Tuel was sent into the game by Coach Wulff midway through the second quarter to take over an offense that was sputtering.

Tuel and his teammates held the ball for the final 8:35 of the first half by putting together a 19 play, 58-yard drive against the best defense in the Pac-10.

The drive didn't conclude with points on the scoreboard but did provide evidence of a very improved football team coached by Wulff and his staff.

TROJAN FANS LIVE to regale with tales of Linnert, Palmer, Booty, Sanchez, etc. No question there is a rich history of great college players to have lined up under center for USC.

Washington State isn't without their own storied legends of young quarterbacks playing football in the LA Coliseum. Jeff Tuel is certain to draw comparisons with Cougar great Drew Bledsoe, who took his first huge step forward on the gridiron surrounded by 80,000-plus Trojan fans.

Statistical comparisons between the debut of Tuel and Bledsoe are inevitable. There will be the more obvious physical comparisons as well.

Having been on hand to watch both players prepare to take their first snaps against USC, stats and measurables weren't what struck me about the similarities between the two.

THE BEST COMPARISON between two Cougs playing as true freshmen at quarterback against tremendous USC football teams should hearten all of Cougar Nation about the direction of their beloved crimson and gray.

Like Bledsoe strutting up to take his first college snap in a game where the WSU offense was being controlled by a physical Trojan defense, Jeff Tuel played with poise which belied his youth.

The confidence and control Tuel exhibited can be attributed to strong character, being part of the Cougar family -- and pride.

The young man simply wants to play football at the Pac-10 level. Tuel did just that in his debut.

After the game, Tuel seemed just as prepared and poised in talking with reporters as he was on the field trying to read Trojan defensive schemes.

"I had a lot of fun. It was a blast. It was something very special to debut in such a special place as the Coliseum," said Tuel when asked about his first play at quarterback for WSU. "I enjoyed the heck out of it and look forward to the future.

"At times we had it all working. We've just got to piece it all together," Tuel added.

IF THOSE COMMENTS don't sound familiar, you haven't been listening to Wulff. A key part of the culture he is bringing back to Cougar football is playing with pride and passion as part of a team. And it's just as important to play the game well as it is to have fun doing just that.

The favorite target of Tuel's tosses was another true freshman, Gino Simone. One couldn't avoid pondering the possibilities of those two hooking up for years to come.

"Gino Simone…came open quite a few times. I give him credit because he's a very smart receiver. If his route is designed (one way) and it's not open he'll break back the other way and find an open spot for me. So really, the receivers did a great job of making my job easy," said Tuel.

TUEL IMPRESSED WITH both his arm and his legs. He showed great agility and good speed with scrambling away from would-be Trojan tacklers and turning potential sacks into ground gainers. Still, the game was what it is for all true freshmen -- faster than they could have expected.

"It was definitely (so) in certain areas, especially when I tucked to run. The guys were closing in so much faster than you really think," said Tuel.

And so after Tuel performed as well as he did against the unfamiliar speed, his teammates came up to him in droves.

"It means the world to me to have my teammates have my back and have faith in me. That's why I'm here. Because of that family support we have, and I love my teammates to death," said Tuel.

THERE WILL BE no red shirt season for Tuel to slowly acclimate himself to college life and Cougar football. But following his debut last night, it looks as though that will be just fine with everyone associated with the Washington State football program.

For now, Wulff and his staff must likely settle for wins within the game. Their task now is build on the small victories -- to achieve the big ones.

About the author: Lew Wright Sr. joined the WSU family in 1969 and has been a rabid Cougar fan ever since. He resides in his native Southern California.

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