Jeff Tuel, having survived a beating as a freshman, might become Washington State's next great quarterback.
PULLMAN — Up in the seats last year at Washington State football games sat a faithful couple, filled with equal parts hope and trepidation.
In the worst of it, Jeff Tuel Sr. and his wife, Valerie, would hold hands and beseech their son to emerge from the piles of humanity.
“Get up,” Valerie would say in a low voice. “Get up. Get up.”
He always did, though not always bouncing. Jeff Tuel, maybe the next great WSU quarterback, took an unmerciful beating in his six games as a true freshman, underscoring that even for the best of them over here, it was never only seashells and balloons.
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One of Drew Bledsoe’s years, WSU allowed 56 sacks. Ryan Leaf seriously thought about transferring. Jason Gesser had to lose before he could win.
In fact, the younger Tuel might not have a complete grasp of the wide swath of quarterback history at WSU. For that, he might turn to his dad, who, with a little coaxing, accompanied several of the school’s best on a dream fishing junket in late June.
It was billed as the Cougar Legends Fishing Adventure, and apparently, it delivered. The participants took a chartered 737 north from Vancouver, B.C., to a high-end lodge at Englefield Bay in the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Leaf was on the trip, as were Gesser, Jack Thompson and the quarterback of WSU’s 2003 Holiday Bowl-winning team, Matt Kegel. Bill Moos, the new athletic director, was also on hand.
The group of 30 landed no shortage of kings, coho, halibut and lingcod.
Nor, says Jeff Tuel Sr., was there any lack of esprit among the ex-players about the place of the WSU program in their bosoms.
“At first, I was a little hesitant,” says Tuel, who told Thompson, “I’m not an alum.”
But, he says, “I was welcomed with open arms. I did get to hear a lot of good things that gave me a sense for the tradition, and just the passion these guys have for winning and what it means to be a Cougar.”
Some of that has obviously seeped down to his son, who is gradually making this his team — or at least, significantly dependent on how he plays.
Says the younger Tuel, “I want to be the next guy on that Cougar legends poster.”
If taking early licks is part of the apprenticeship, Tuel has a head start. Behind an offensive line that was as injured as it was undistinguished, Tuel took a fierce beating in ’09.
In his first start at Oregon, behind a 253-pound, true-freshman guard, Tuel got belted below the rib cage near the hip and suffered nerve damage. He was still gimpy the next week when Arizona State administered 12 sacks to the Cougars. Two weeks later, he took another five sacks against Notre Dame.
Finally, his season ended Nov. 7 against Arizona, when he dislocated a kneecap and sprained a ligament.
Before any of that happened, he made his college debut Sept. 26, given a cushy landing against USC.
“There was one play where I fumbled the snap, picked it up and there was a huge hole in the ‘A’ gap,” Tuel says. “I took it up there, and I don’t think any of the ‘backers saw me. But Taylor Mays was coming downhill. I looked up and dove right under him. He would have killed me.”
Given the leaky support, you could argue Tuel would have been better served to redshirt the season. On the other hand, he represented hope, completing 58.7 percent of his passes, and gave both players and fans something to grab onto as he logged experience.
Tuel, 6 feet 3, played at less than 200 pounds at times last year but entered fall camp at a noticeably stouter 214.
He sometimes flees the pocket too quickly — a survival instinct from last fall, maybe? — and he must advance at reading defenses, among a passel of requirements along a quarterback’s progression from promising to productive.
But, says WSU quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, “I see a huge, huge improvement in him. I think the game comes naturally to him.”
Tuel is still, as they say, a pup. His family, originally from Florida, moved to Tucson, Ariz., in 1994, and then in 2006 to Fresno, Calif., where his father is president of an irrigation-systems company.
At Clovis West High outside Fresno, Tuel was a year behind California reserve Beau Sweeney — grandson of ex-WSU coach Jim Sweeney — and thus played mostly in Sweeney’s shadow. Tuel was the JV quarterback as a sophomore and played receiver and mop-up quarterback as a junior.
Late that school year, Sturdy came through Fresno and heard good things from the Clovis West coaches. Tuel, meanwhile, excelled in camps that spring, and WSU offered a scholarship that Tuel accepted in August.
He has excellent, quick feet, and his dad — himself a competitive baseball player — says his son threw 90 miles an hour as a high-school junior.
“He throws scary hard,” the elder Tuel says. “I don’t even like to catch him anymore.”
At one time, Tuel might have had a decision between a baseball or football future. But the early scholarship offer from WSU settled that.
It hasn’t come without hardship, both in bruises and defeats — 11 in 12 games.
“No one comes here to lose,” Tuel said on a midsummer day. “We’re all competitors, we all love to win. It’s never an easy thing to have a season like that.
“What really needs to happen — and what has happened, I truly believe — is that enough guys say, ‘Enough,’ and decide to do something about it.”
“When he wrote down his goals for this year,” says his father, “his very first goal was: ‘Win.’ “
And maybe sometime off in the future, go fish. As a WSU legend.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
|Next in line?|
|Washington State fans are hoping sophomore Jeff Tuel becomes the next on a long list of great Cougars quarterbacks.|
|Jack Thompson, 1975-78||601-1,086||.553||7,818||53|
|“Throwin’ Samoan” left with NCAA record of 7,818 passing yards; No. 3 pick in 1979 draft.|
|Mark Rypien, 1983-85||326-613||.532||4,573||28|
|Played 11 seasons in the NFL; named MVP of Redskins’ Super Bowl victory in 1992.|
|Timm Rosenbach, 1986-88||474-789||.601||5,995||39|
|Went pro after great junior season, played 3 years in NFL; hit 60 percent of passes at WSU.|
|Drew Bledsoe, 1990-92||532-979||.543||7,373||46|
|No. 1 pick in 1993 draft played 14 NFL seasons, passed for more than 44,000 yards.|
|Ryan Leaf, 1995-97||473-880||.538||7,433||59|
|Led Cougars to the 1998 Rose Bowl as a junior; No. 2 pick in ’98 draft was an NFL bust.|
|Jason Gesser, 1999-2002||611-1,118||.547||8,830||70|
|Led WSU to Sun Bowl and Rose Bowl in Mike Price’s final two seasons with Cougars.|
|Alex Brink, 2004-07||848-1,450||.585||10,913||76|
|Leader in nearly all WSU career passing categories; playing for Winnipeg in CFL|