Gino Simone takes solace in knowing it's not too late to resurrect his football career.
The Washington State University wide receiver, once billed the prize find of Paul Wulff's first full recruiting class in 2009, was written off after his junior year. He would like nothing more than to prove his former coaches wrong.
He's finally healthy. More important, he's finally motivated."Yes, definitely," Simone said Friday when asked whether the previous coaching staff had lost faith in him. "That's tough as a player. It's tough to stay motivated and I feel like this staff has really made me fall in love with the game again."
To hear Simone speak so optimistically about his career is surprising considering where he ended the 2011 season. He had hit a low point of his career, hauling in four catches as a non-factor in the nation's ninth most productive passing offense.
The Skyline High School graduate was far removed from his days slicing through prep defenses alongside eventual University of Washington wide receiver Kasen Williams. Quarterback Jake Heaps, who would later find himself no stranger to unfulfilled expectations at BYU, from where he transferred, helped Simone and Williams form the most explosive trio of playmakers in the state on a team that went undefeated in back-to-back seasons. All appeared destined for successful college careers.
Simone turned down offers from Boise State, Oregon State and the University of Washington to try to help rebuild a WSU program left in shambles after successive years of poor recruiting.
In his freshman year, he looked every bit the all-state selection. He quickly won over fans after shaking off a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the second game of his career against the University of Hawaii. Two week later, Simone returned from the concussion for eight catches and 83 yards against USC. The performance was the best game of his college career.
Three years later, still is.
After an injury-riddled sophomore campaign, Simone seemed poised for a bounce-back 2011 season. There was just one problem -- he was too heavy.
“I wasn’t in the type of shape that we needed," he said. "I think (new head football strength and condition coach) Jason Loscalzo has changed that and completely reinvented everything we’ve done. It’s helped. You look out here and guys are faster, thinner and better.”
A summer conditioning program referred to by some players as harder than any workout conducted by the previous regime has Simone in prime shape entering fall camp. Trimmed down to 184 pounds after playing last year just south of two bills, he's currently splitting reps at the "H-WR" spot in the Air Raid Offense with junior walk-on Bennett Bontemps.
“It’s good to feel like you have a new opportunity at things. I think it was just what this team needed," Simone said about the coaching overhaul and the chance to start. "Confidence is (this staff's) biggest thing that they’ve brought that this team has been really able to take on. We got to know we are going to be in a position to win games instead of just competing.”
WSU head coach Mike Leach intimated feelings similar to those of his wide receiver on Friday. It certainly didn't sound like Simone would spend much of 2012 on the bench.
“I was never here before so I don’t know if he underperformed or not,” Leach said when asked about Simone's career arc. “I don’t have any way to gauge that. He’s gotten consistently better. He started out slow for us but I didn’t think he was in real good shape. He’s slim and quick and fast and has a good sense of space. I think he’s playing real well right now.”
Simone's early resurgence could be a reflection of his coaching staff's ability to energize a group of seniors who have won just seven games the past three years. Perhaps he is the perfect fit for Leach's Air Raid Offense. Simone said he loves the freedom the system affords wide receivers to make quick decisions depending on the defensive coverage. Either way, the six-foot-one-inch senior is thrilled to have one more shot at reconstructing his career.
His teammates feel the same way.
"We're sick and tired of losing all the time and we're ready to work," he said. "We worked our butts off all summer so we're ready to strap it up and get going."