Senior receiver Gino Simone is the perfect host for a rough stretch of Cougars football: uncomplaining, hard working, always positive.
He went from one of the state’s top recruits four years ago to a career at Washington State he couldn’t have expected. But Gino Simone continues to have a Chamber of Commerce attitude about it all, which is why he’s been more valuable to the Cougars than meets the eye.
“I love this school,” Simone said earlier this week. “I love this program.”
Back when he was catching 36 passes and starting as a freshman in the second year of the Paul Wulff regime, the Cougars were realizing a dual benefit to having landed Simone, fresh from a Class 4A state title at Skyline High School in Sammamish, where he was a Seattle Times Blue Chip selection.
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Early on, Simone, along with people like quarterback Jeff Tuel and Kennedy High product Nolan Washington, became known as guys who were best at spreading the gospel of Cougars football. They were routinely given the assignment of recruiting hosts, natural salesmen who were best at pitching the program to future players.
“I’ve always enjoyed that,” Simone said. “For me, it’s always been easy to go about recruiting. I want kids to have the same experience I’ve had, to gain friendships and fall in love with being a Coug.”
“You could make a list of guys that are playing currently that are there because of Gino and his guys,” says Simone’s father, Ron.
After Simone caught those 36 balls as a freshman, he battled injuries as a sophomore and junior, one of them a hamstring, and totaled 17 receptions the next two years.
Last winter, he said he thought a directive to get bigger had hampered him. He entered school at 6 feet, 169 pounds and at one point, had grown to 198. When the Mike Leach staff arrived, Simone put a premium on becoming more nimble and is now listed at 184.
He seemed perfectly suited to the Leach system, a dependable slot receiver who catches everything. But something kept him off the field entirely for WSU’s first two home games. Perhaps the emergence of freshman Brett Bartolone, with a long future in the program, squeezed him.
“When Gino played badly, he’d be tight, he’d press, he just couldn’t uncork the thing,” Leach says. “Then when he relaxed, he really did some good things.
“I wish I’d seen the same fella in the spring, because I think he’d be better than he is now.”
Simone says the new staff is “awesome.”
“They’ve been playing the guys who are playing the best,” he says. “I kind of had a moment when I stopped worrying about making mistakes and the things that can’t be controlled and just said I’m going to have fun and enjoy this.”
Against Oregon, Simone had five catches, his most in 30 games.
He came back with three catches for 83 yards at Oregon State in his first start since 2010.
“As far as a feeling of being written off, ever, I don’t feel that way,” Simone says. “They’ve given me fair shots and been honest with me. I really appreciate that with the new staff.”
“That’s why I’m so proud of Gino,” says his father. “There’s a lot of seniors in situations like Gino’s that just check out. They’ve been getting their butts kicked for 3 ½ years now, and not one time, never one time, has he complained or whined about anything.
“I think I might be whining by now.”
Ron and Patty Simone’s son had his own ideas back when he was being recruited, too. Ron wanted him to take a trip to Boise State, which was winning everything in sight, but Gino produced both schools’ schedules, put them side by side, and said, “I want to play in the Pac-10.”
He could have done that at Washington or Oregon State, too. But Washington was making the transition from Tyrone Willingham to Steve Sarkisian, who made a fast visit to Skyline after being named in December 2008.
“I think he would have gone to Washington if they had solidified the coaching staff,” Ron Simone says. “Sark came in late and still hadn’t had a receiver coach selected. The comfort level wasn’t there.”
So Simone stuck with a commitment to WSU to help with a turnaround that’s yet to blossom.
Still, he says, “It’s just been awesome. Obviously, things on the field haven’t always been so great. But it’s for reasons like, I’ve been able to grow up and become a man.
“It’s those difficulties that make us who we are. I would never trade my time here for the world.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org