PULLMAN – How much is Paul Wulff ready to turn the corner on last season?
How about so much the Washington State University football coach is going to do something no other Cougars coach has done.
At least in the past 30 years.
Wulff’s team will open the season against Stanford on Saturday with two true freshmen in starting roles, defensive end Travis Long and slot receiver Gino Simone.
Only once since the Pac-10 was formed have the Cougars opened the season with two true freshmen starters and then, in 2004, one was kicker Loren Langley.
“They’ve earned it,” Wulff said this week, before praising their maturity.
“(Simone) and Travis have a tremendous amount of similarities,” he added. “That’s why they are where they’re at. They’re 18 years of age and we want to have guys who are 22 years of age with (their) type of head.”
Simone’s maturity shows in his route running. The 5-foot-11, 184-pounder is meticulous as he runs down the field, using sharp cuts and quick feet to break open. But it’s what he does after he catches the ball that excites Wulff.
“He’s got some deceiving elusiveness about him,” Wulff said. “We’re anxious to see, you know, practice is one thing, games are another.
“He’s a very polished player for his age. He’s a lot more advanced than most guys are at his age at his position.”
When Simone, who helped Skyline High win the State 4A title last fall, committed to WSU, he knew he had a chance to help right away.
“I really believe it’s what the coaches have planned here,” he said. “They had told me all along that I was going to have a good opportunity to come in and play. Being the competitor that I am, I wanted to come in and have that opportunity.
“I think, through the course of camp, I’ve earned the opportunity to play for us on Saturday.”
But it didn’t take a Mensa member to figure there would be opportunity. While he and Long were finishing up high school, the Cougars were in the midst of a 2-11 season with a lineup featuring a number of seniors.
“This is what I wanted,” said Long, 6-4 and 247 pounds. This is why I came here, to play Pac-10 football. … Getting that first Pac-10 sack, that would be ideal.”
Wulff has said he would rather redshirt each incoming player, giving them a year to mature and to prepare, letting them learn to control their nerves and emotions. Five redshirt freshmen are among the two-deep for Saturday’s opener.
“Not yet,” Long answered when asked if he was nervous. “I think closer to Saturday, the more nervous I’ll be getting.”
Wulff, for his part, just wants the freshmen, and every player, to perform. He’s sure Long will.
“When we signed Travis, I truly felt he was one of the better defensive linemen on the West Coast, period,” Wulff said. “It’s all kind of held true through camp. He came in here and flat out-played the other guys at the defensive end position. … He’s just very mature. He’s grinded through practice like a veteran.”
Simone is sure he and Long, along with the freshmen who are trying to redshirt this season, will be helping the Cougars for the next four years.
“We’re just going to keep plugging and plugging, and I think good things are going to happen for us,” Simone said.