"We came here and knew what the deal was," Simone says. "It's a rebuilding process and we're here for the long haul."
PULLMAN — They’re freshmen, and today, they’re acting like it.
“We’re brothers,” Nolan Washington says giddily, wrapping an arm around Gino Simone, “from another mother.”
No, they’re not brothers. But they are confreres in an ambitious enterprise called raising Washington State football.
It’s going to be painstaking, small steps toward a thousand-mile journey.
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“We came here and knew what the deal was,” insists Simone, a receiver from Skyline High. “It’s a rebuilding process and we’re here for the long haul.
“Good things are going to happen for us.”
From the wreckage of Washington State’s 2008 season, with all its ghoulish scores and ridiculous margins, some hint of foundation had to emerge if this was ever going to work.
Some of it came from Washington, the cornerback from Kennedy High, and Simone, and other guys like Darren Markle, a middle linebacker from Meridian, Idaho.
It set up like this: Paul Wulff took over two winters ago, accompanied by the jolt that rides with any new coach, and sold enlistees on rebuilding a sagging program, mostly in the summer.
Then the games began.
WSU lost 66-3 to California, and before September was out, 63-14 to Oregon. Then 66-13 to Oregon State.
If not the highest-profile recruits, these were at least guys with options. Think about the peer pressure. One day, you’re a big man on your high-school campus, fielding coaches’ calls and taking visits, and then you’re shrunk down to size, somebody only good enough to go to a program more likely to draw mention from Chris Rock than Chris Fowler.
And so, if you’re human, you waver. And if you waver, maybe you bolt before signing day.
Simone committed to WSU about a year ago, and admitted to some fragile moments.
“I mean, yeah,” he said. “Oregon State and Boise State had been showing me a lot of love.”
He and Washington were friends from several high-school camps. Simone helped recruit Washington for WSU, and Washington announced for the Cougars in December.
But then Washington heard Simone might be reconsidering.
“Do I hear you’re taking visits now?” Washington asked Simone warily.
“Aw, I’m just going to take one and see what’s up.”
“You can’t leave me.”
Simone took a visit to Oregon State, a program separated from a Rose Bowl appearance only by a lousy night against Oregon. Somehow, he found himself talking to other OSU recruits about WSU.
Simone says he knew it then: “I’m a Cougar.”
Washington says he found himself playing defense of a different kind than he was accustomed.
“Once I committed,” he says, “a lot of coaches were calling my [Kennedy] coaches, saying, ‘What is he doing? He needs to rethink.’ “
Washington won’t get specific about programs that wanted him to reverse field before signing date, but it’s clear the University of Washington was one.
“It was my decision,” Washington said. “It was for me, not for them. They can say what they want, but I’ll see them on the other side. That’s all I’m going to say. I can’t wait for that day, when I see them on the other side.”
For Markle, it was simpler. In Idaho, he was mostly off the recruiting radar when he committed to WSU in the summer of 2008. As the Cougars’ unseemly season went on, he says he continued to hear from Utah, but was unfazed.
“I wasn’t part of that team, so I wasn’t able to control that,” he says. “It just shows I have a chance to be able to contribute earlier, I guess.”
Measurables? Markle bench-presses 410, says he ran a laser-timed 4.59 40 two years ago. For his high school’s talent pageant in the spring, he decided to squat 620 pounds.
Think of that load as a metaphor for WSU’s quest to return to winning.
Gesturing to Simone, Washington says, “We’re all big thinkers, not just me and him, but our whole class. We all have big dreams. It’s going to take time and hard work, but we should be fine.”
Even before the time and hard work, there had to be something else for WSU. You might call it faith-healing.