By Brady Henderson
Jeff Tuel figured his college career wouldn’t be easy when he came to Washington State following the Cougars’ 2-11 season in 2008.
He was right.
The Cougars went 10-38 during his four-year career in Pullman, which unofficially ended last month with a win over Washington in the Apple Cup. But as he leaves to pursue a career in the NFL, Tuel says his experience at Washington State was a positive one.
“I knew going in I wasn’t going into a built up program and a winning program and this and that, so it was a challenge that I accepted and I knew was going to be difficult along with my other classmates of the 2009 class. It’s something we embraced,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle on Wednesday.
“Obviously … I would have liked to have won a lot more ballgames and had a lot more of those times like I had at the Apple Cup and such, but that’s just not how it goes. I still enjoyed my time and I’ll cherish it forever.”
The school announced Tuesday that Tuel had ended his bid for a fifth year of eligibility, something he hoped the NCAA would grant him after playing in only three games in 2011 due to a collarbone injury. The process was a long one; Tuel said the NCAA approached him for a third time last week seeking more information.
With the college all-star games and the NFL scouting combine coming up, Tuel finally decided he couldn’t afford to wait any longer considering there was no guarantee the NCAA would rule in his favor.
“If I end up waiting two or three more weeks and the NCAA comes back and says, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not going to give it to you,’ then … I’m kinda screwed because all the invites are out for senior bowls and all that good stuff, and those are the things that I need most,” he said.
“I need to get out there and show my athleticism to some of these scouts and whatnot, and run a 40 and do all that stuff to try to improve my stock as much as I can.”
Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBSSports.com, believes Tuel will be a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent. Rang thinks Tuel, who is 6-feet-3 and 221 pounds, has mobility and athleticism that will appeal to NFL teams. Rang also lists accuracy and toughness among Tuel’s strengths. His weaknesses, according to Rang, are durability and average arm strength.
A more productive senior season certainly would have helped boost Tuel’s draft stock. The arrival of coach Mike Leach and his Air-Raid offense created expectations that Tuel and the Cougars didn’t meet. He started seven games while splitting time with sophomore Connor Halliday, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,087 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Tuel said Leach’s offense isn’t one that’s mastered over night.
“… It was a big learning curve for me to do the things coach Leach was asking me to do and kinda understand what makes that offense tick and getting us into good plays and getting us to be able to move the ball,” he said. “There’s definitely a learning curve for it. It was something we started to get a grasp of there towards the end of the season.”
For as disappointing as his final season – or the other three, for that matter – might have been, Tuel leaves Washington State with his name near the top of some of the school’s all-time records. He’s first in career completion percentage (61.4), fifth in completions (531), sixth in attempts (865) and seventh in yards (5,936) and touchdowns (33). Those rankings are more impressive considering some of Tuel’s prolific predecessors at Washington State.
Tuel also leaves on a high note, having helped the Cougars upset rival Washington for one of the program’s biggest wins in years. Tuel called that Apple Cup win a “dream come true.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to end it. Words can’t describe the feeling that my teammates and I had in the locker room, kissing the trophy, taking pictures with it and whatnot, goofing around,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling to bring that trophy back to Pullman, where it belongs.”