TUCSON, Ariz. – No, not everyone in Tucson is a University of Arizona fan.
Jeff Tuel wasn’t.
Tuel, who spent his formative years in the high desert community, was a football fan, sure, but not necessarily a Wildcats booster.
“I probably was when I was younger, but I wasn’t like a true, die-hard fan,” he said this week.
“I always dreamed of playing Division I football, so I guess (I dreamed) of playing on that field,” said Tuel, who has fulfilled the first part of that dream and will start his fifth game at quarterback for Washington State today when the Cougars face UA in a Pac-10 matchup.
“But I never grew up saying, ‘I want to be a Wildcat.’ I just wanted to make it, to play at that level,”
That’s not to say Tuel didn’t follow the Wildcats – “I’ve probably been to over 200 games in my lifetime,” he said, including all sports – or play on the Arizona Stadium field.
“I actually played a Pop Warner game on there at halftime,” he said.
Tuel lived in Tucson until the summer following ninth grade at Salpointe Catholic. That’s when his dad, also Jeff, took a job as a general manager of Fresno, Calif., irrigation company.
WSU’s freshman quarterback left a few friends behind, including Mike Descisciolo, a first-year walk-on with the ’Cats.
“After my senior year of high school I visited some friends down there for a few days,” said Tuel, who finished his high school career at Clovis West on the outskirts of Fresno. “It all looked the same. Drove by my old house. I can still maneuver my way through the town just fine.”
Now Tuel will try to maneuver the Cougars (1-7, 0-5 Pac-10) past the 21st-ranked Wildcats (5-2, 3-1) and snap WSU’s five-game losing streak.
At least he’s in a town where he’s experienced success.
“Our Pop Warner league was extremely competitive,” Tuel said, smiling. “We won a city championship down there.”