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Originally published February 25, 2012 at 7:33 PM | Page modified February 25, 2012 at 7:33 PM

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New WSU regime, new thrust for offseason work

WSU players are enduring their most grueling offseason, courtesy of the provocative new hire the school made three months ago.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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PULLMAN — When Gino Simone arrived at Washington State as a touted recruit from Skyline High in the fall of 2009, he weighed 169 pounds. That year, playing slot receiver, he caught 36 passes.

The next two years were marked by the occasional injury, a lot of added weight, and a total of 17 receptions. Last season, he played at 198 pounds.

"The last staff that was here, all they ever preached to me was to try to gain weight and become stronger," Simone said the other day. "I did that, and I think it really hampered my ability to move like I wanted to move.

"My focus for the offseason is to remain strong, but to get back a lot of that speed and quickness I had freshman year."

Welcome to football, Mike Leach-style.

WSU players are enduring their most grueling offseason, courtesy of the provocative new hire the school made three months ago. Leach, who never met a forward pass he didn't like, likes to emphasize speed, quickness and agility training.

And a diabolical routine called Midnight Maneuvers.

It's de rigueur, of course, that a new coach immediately implements an offseason program designed to root out some of the reasons the old regime wasn't winning. Leach recently did that, sending enigmatic linebacker C.J. Mizell packing after he was arrested for assault. In itself, that got the attention of the Cougars.

"As a team, we have to look forward," said safety Deone Bucannon. "At the same time, he could have been an All-American. We know that. I just feel at times he didn't know that."

"(Leach) told us, 'If you guys don't get your stuff together, it's a one-strike policy and you'll be gone,' " said quarterback Jeff Tuel. "Whether guys figure it out or not is up to them. That definitely set an example for sure."

It was a couple of weeks before that the Leach administration began to resonate with the players. At Texas Tech, Leach had some standard training and disciplinary practices, one of them based on the idea that instead of early morning workouts — come to think of it, who plays a game at 6 a.m.? — a better approach is to probe players' physical limits at about the time the fourth quarter is starting on some of those Saturday-night matchups.

So for eight days, from 10 p.m. to midnight, players gathered inside the practice bubble and dashed madly between nine stations. They spent three minutes at each, got a minute's rest and broke to the next one.

At one, they did up-downs, push-ups and sit-ups. At another they did bear-crawls. Elsewhere they grabbed a board and pushed it 20, 25 yards continuously around a cone.

"It was by far the most challenging thing I've done here," said Simone. "It's as fast-paced as you can believe. It was a culture shock, in a way."

John Fullington, the offensive lineman, earned all black shirts. It wasn't enough just to finish the workout; if you turned in an above-average performance, you were rewarded with a black shirt for the next night's fun. An average workout got you a gray shirt. Below average won you the dreaded pink shirt.

"The pink shirts were a tighter size than the normal shirts," Bucannon laughed. "So if it was a big D-tackle, they'd be wearing like a 'large' shirt. It was pretty funny out there."

As debilitating as the routine was physically, it also took a mental toll. Players thought about it continually during the day with a mix of anticipation and dread. When it was over, a lot of them couldn't get to sleep until 2 or 3 a.m. For running back Rickey Galvin, that began to make it seem like there were two workouts, not one, in a day.

"For sure, there's a sense of urgency to get the team back on track from when it was going to bowl games," said Galvin. "These coaches want to come in and go right away. These coaches know how to win."

When Paul Wulff took over four years ago, he realized what later became apparent to everybody else: The Cougars were woefully undersized, so the training emphasis was on size and strength.

Different coach now, different thrust. But, said Bucannon, "Winters weren't nearly as tough as these. I feel this is what we should have been doing two years ago."

"There's a new excitement around this program," said Simone. "You're seeing a lot of fire from guys who had become almost accustomed to not working at the level that needs to be worked at."

Meanwhile, they're installing a sand pit just to the west of WSU's practice fields. The players can only imagine what Leach, architect of their planned renaissance, has in mind there.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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