By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — Call it Gino Simone’s senior moment.
He was slogging through the final year of his Washington State career. Playing time was sparse. And the Sammamish, Wash., native decided that, you know what, there just isn’t enough time left to play so uptight all the time.
“I kind of had a moment where I stopped caring about making mistakes and worrying about all the things that can’t be controlled,” Simone said. “And was able to just say, ‘I’m going to go have fun and enjoy this.’”
There hasn’t been much to enjoy for WSU during a 2-4 start this season, but Simone has become an expert at finding the positives in negative situations.
He came here during the darkest of WSU days, playing as a true freshman on a team that finished 1-11 in 2009.
The next two seasons were filled with injuries and mostly losses, Simone reaching his personal low point last season when he caught just four passes and barely saw the field.
But with Mike Leach and his new staff taking over, Simone wasn’t forgotten. He didn’t particularly impress them early on, but Simone’s play in recent weeks has pushed him to the fore of WSU’s receiver rotation.
Three catches for 83 yards in a loss to Oregon State last week constituted a breakout game.
“When Gino would play bad, he’d be tight, he’d press, couldn’t uncork the thing,” Leach said. “He’d just be so wound up he couldn’t function. Then when he relaxed he really did some good things.
“I just think (he’s) mentally, physically and emotionally committed and some good things are happening. I wish I’d have seen this same fella in spring, because I think he’d be even better than he is now. But he’s really doing some good things.”
Consider Simone, then, an example of what Leach is looking for from his seniors. Leach, somewhat famously now, said Monday that a few of those players have an “empty corpse quality” about them, an apparent indictment of their lack of emotion and leadership skills.
There are now just 13 seniors on the Cougars’ roster after the departure in recent weeks of offensive lineman Dan Spitz and defensive lineman Lenard Williams. Ten of those players appear on WSU’s 2-deep this week. Four are likely to start Saturday against California.
“Some of them have been great and some of them have been very poor,” Leach said. “Some of them have had kind of this zombie-like, go-through-the-motions, every – thing-is-like-how-it’s-always-been, that’s-how-it’ll-always-be. Some of them, quite honestly have an empty corpse quality. That’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but that’s a fact. That’s why it’s been necessary for us to have the youth moment that we’ve had.”
But Simone has persevered through it, now listed as a co-starter with freshman Gabe Marks at the inside Y receiver spot.
“You give kids certain amount of chances and certain kids make the most of their chances and find themselves making plays,” said inside receivers coach Eric Morris. “He played his amount of plays against Colorado, and he’s just worked himself into the mix.”
With six games left in his college career — seven, if the Cougars can find a way to win four of those — Simone just wants to win. Finally, in some way, whatever it takes, he wants to win.
“I’ve been here long enough to where I really don’t care who’s on the field anymore. I just want to win games,” Simone said. “And that was my goal coming to this school and my time’s running out. I don’t have a whole lot longer here. Whoever can be on the field who’s going to make us the most successful in games is who we need out there.”
One of those players once again, Simone professed his love for the school, his appreciation of the friendships and good times he’s had despite the losses.
“Football is never forever. It’s something that we love to do, but it’s not going to be there forever,” Simone said. “But the relationships I’ve developed and the friendships and the brotherhoods, those are things that will be there forever.”