During some idle moments recently in Washington State's fall camp, Jeff Tuel talked about a ride that's fast disappearing in his rearview...
PULLMAN — During some idle moments recently in Washington State’s fall camp, Jeff Tuel talked about a ride that’s fast disappearing in his rearview mirror.
“It’s had its few ups, and many downs,” he said, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
For the sake of making a point, we’ll let him have the ups and we’ll entertain some of the downs:
There was the knee injury that ended his freshman season in 2009; the broken collarbone (and its recurrence) last year, which effectively wiped out the entire season; and most of all, WSU’s scant seven wins since he arrived.
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So the take here is that in the race for most deserving Cougar to have some success in 2012 after all these drought-desiccated years, Jeff Tuel has a lap on the field.
Tuel’s final quest begins Thursday night at Brigham Young. That makes it a little more than four years since he first pledged to play quarterback for the Cougars, committing to Paul Wulff’s staff in August 2008, the cornerstone to the franchise.
He was thus a high-school senior — and still a free agent — as that ’08 team got annihilated weekly. It got so bad that year, Pete Carroll had his USC team take a knee at the end of the first half rather than score again.
Tuel stayed loyal, signing with the Cougars. The signature would qualify him for all sorts of dubious responsibilities, like having to be the leader, the guy who always rallied people around him to attend summer workouts or run the extra sprint in the offseason.
Then there was the duty as face of the program. I figure he’s done two to three hundred one-on-one or small-group interviews in his career, trying to explain defeats usually somebody else’s fault much more than his. Being the good soldier.
“You can take it the good way or the bad way,” Tuel says. “I know people enjoy hearing about how the program is doing, how I’m doing and stuff. I’m not giving feedback to the reporters, I’m giving back to the people that read the reporters’ writing.”
All that’s in addition to the pounding. I get a kick out of magazine references to “if Tuel can stay healthy,” as if he’s preternaturally injury-prone. Would it help to know that during the last three years, the Cougars have allowed 143 sacks? Or that in 2010, Tuel was sacked 48 times and started 12 games?
For a team that’s been mostly miserable, he’s thrown for 25 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, good enough that in July, he spent time at the Manning quarterback camp in Louisiana, where he got to know people like Washington’s Keith Price, USC’s Matt Barkley and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
But that was an individual perk, and even though he could throw for 4,000 yards in a Mike Leach offense, Tuel keeps saying he wants to make it about the team. When I asked where he’d like to advance most in 2012, Tuel doesn’t pause long before saying, “Winning games, simple as that.”
He took quickly to the Leach changeover. His dad, Jeff Sr., says, “One of the things he’s said to me over and over again is, ‘You can just feel it. The players feed off the confidence of the coaches.’ “
There was that time a couple of years ago, when father and son exchanged pointed words about the mission Jeff Jr. was on at WSU.
“He wants that respect for the Cougars so bad,” says the senior Tuel. “He said I had no idea how hard it was to watch the team suffer, that I had no idea what it was like to see them struggle for respect — to be on the field and not see them earn respect from their peers.
“It was one of the most emotional times I’ve seen him.”
Today, the son swears he appreciates what’s happened, even through the lean times.
“Not everybody gets to go through what I’ve gone through,” Tuel says. “The ‘downs’ are going to make it that much sweeter and better when we get to the top and start doing really good things.”
He sounded like he aims to see that start before leaving.