PULLMAN – It is so consistent, you could set your watch app to it.
Preseason camp opens at our nation’s colleges and universities. The players speak. Summer workouts are mentioned.
“We’ve never worked harder.”
“The best ever.”
“We’re bigger, stronger, faster.”
Can’t always be true, can it?
So when a player, a star player at that, admits the summer may not have been filled with the mother of all workouts, you listen. And give more credence to what follows.
“This is the best summer we’ve had maybe not in how much conditioning we did or how hard we worked, but we didn’t have a lot of guys missing any workouts in the summer,” said Washington State defensive end Travis Long, twice a Pac-10 honorable mention selection. “There were more people on the same page, you could just tell.”
“I would say the most important (part of summer) was attendance and effort,” echoed quarterback Jeff Tuel. “In the past we had guys show up late on a weekly basis, not show up or something like that, whether it’s 7-on-(7), or weightlifting, guys slacking or not coming, or to throwing or whatever it may be, attendance hadn’t been that great. That’s just how it was.
“This summer it’s really been the exact opposite.”
Which, everyone connected to the WSU football program hopes, may lead to the exact opposite results of the past three years.
When the Cougars open preseason practice this afternoon for the fourth time under coach Paul Wulff, they will be coming off three consecutive seasons of 10 or more losses. But Wulff’s 5-32 record at WSU includes three games to close out last season that were the best his teams have played.
A 20-13 loss at home to California and a 35-28 Apple Cup defeat at Washington – both decided in the fourth quarter – sandwiched around a dominating 31-14 road win over Oregon State.
“People have noticed, especially in the coaching world,” Wulff said of a changed perception of the Cougars. “People I talk to, I get a lot of positive feedback from them, that we’ve improved from where we were.”
Yet Wulff, who signed a five-year contract when he left Eastern Washington to take over his alma mater, knows expectations have changed. The first three years were about building a foundation. This year, if he wants to continue as WSU’s 31st football coach, the Cougars need to win.
After all, it is almost completely his team. Only five players on the roster – redshirt seniors Andrew Roxas, Logwone Mitz, Marshall Lobbestael, B.J. Guerra and Dan Wagner – were not recruited by Wulff’s staff.
“Our grades our better, our talent’s better, our work ethic’s better, our discipline and off-field issues are better,” Wulff said. “And I said this, I believe, multiple times when I first got hired, is that we’ve got to get a lot of things in order and in line and be consistent with our development as people, players and students. When we get that in line and it starts to roll over, the last things you’re going to get is wins. Because that’s the final product of all that.
“I think we’re in a position now where we’re going to get wins.”
With the competitive finish to last season and an early-season schedule that features just one team in the first five coming off a winning season, the Cougars need a fast start.
“It’s a confidence factor,” Long said. “We have so many guys who are returning, so we all know how we can play, we showed it in our last three games. In camp, we’ll just try to continue our progress from there.”
“We’ve got to hit the ground running,” Tuel said. “There should be no excuse, no reason why we shouldn’t.
“If we can kind of hit our stride through those first few games, and we can get rolling, then we can be a dangerous football team.”
Dangerous enough to go to a bowl game, something that hasn’t happened since 2003, the last of three consecutive 10-win seasons?
“I think we’ve got a legitimate chance, I really do,” Wulff said. “Things got to evolve and what I say today could change, who knows what could happen with your program. … The right guys have to stay healthy and you’ve got to keep chugging along.”
Optimism. Another of those set-your-watch-app type of things as camp opens.