Simone: WSU rookies setting the stage

PULLMAN -- On the field, Gino Simone's confidence is obvious. Off the field, his confidence is even more obvious. Simone, one of three true freshmen starting for the Washington State Cougars, didn't flinch when asked if he believes his class is the foundation of a return to glory at Ol' Wazzu.

"Absolutely," Simone said. "We're the first step. We're going to be the class to bring this program back to national prominence."

Simone said the freshmen -- 13 of whom are redshirting this season -- share an abundance of talent, camaraderie and determination.

"What people are going to see from this class -- they're going to be shocked," Simone said. "I mean, just the athletes and the type of guys we have, they're unbelievable.

"We all get along so well, and that's not real common, I don't think. A group of 20 guys. We're best friends. We're always together in the dorms and we're always getting along and jawing back and forth.

"It's a really fun group to be a part of."

Coach Paul Wulff said Simone's personality helps him contribute to all the fun.

"He's just got a great and a consistent demeanor about him," Wulff said. "He doesn't get too high or too low. He's very mature and steady in his approach."

Perhaps, but Simone certainly isn't afraid to express his delight about playing for the Cougars. "I'm enjoying this so much, I can't even begin to describe it," Simone said. "This is unbelievable, the opportunity that's been presented to me … That I'm able to go to these places (stadiums) that many people will not be able to go to -- I love every opportunity to take the field for this team."

Simone, starting in the slot, caught a season-high eight passes for 83 yards last week at USC. All of Simone's receptions came after fellow true freshman Jeff Tuel replaced Marshall Lobbestael at quarterback in the second quarter.

Simone and Tuel quickly became close friends after meeting last summer in Pullman, so Simone had even more reason to enjoy watching Tuel play so well in his college debut last week. Now Tuel is set to start Saturday at 16th-ranked Oregon, and Simone expects good things from his buddy.

"No pun intended, he has all the tools. I think he's going to take advantage of it, and we're going to see him grow," Simone said. "He's a great player already, but the steps and bounds he's going to make the next four years -- he's going to be a real special player."

Tuel came across as the calmest guy in the stadium during the nationally televised game at then-No. 12 USC. Tuel will need plenty of poise at Oregon's Autzen Stadium, where the customary sellout, airplane-engine-loud crowd is expected to be on hand.

"He's got great field presence," Simone said. "He has the ability to run and get out of the pocket.

"What's special about that -- there's a lot of guys who can run, but he has the ability to keep his eyes downfield and find a receiver getting open. A lot of guys don't have that."

Simone and Tuel plan to live together next year with fellow freshman Nolan Washington in a Pullman condo that Simone's parents purchased so they have a place to stay this year during their frequent visits.

"Mom has a little trouble with separation," a grinning Simone said. "They are my biggest supporters. I love them for that."

It didn't take long for Cougar coaches to fall in love with Simone's sticky hands, quick feet and upbeat attitude. The former Skyline High School star has 12 catches for 107 yards in three starts. He missed the Southern Methodist game with a concussion.

The Tuel-Simone connection could prove vital for the Cougars at Autzen. Simone can't wait to find out.

"Everyone says Autzen is real loud. That's part of the game, and you love that," Simone said. You want to try to silence those fans. That's what we're going to try to do."

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