It's over for Jeff Tuel at Washington State, and he remained graceful until the end.
It's not much of a surprise, but now it's official: Jeff Tuel announced his decision to drop the appeal to get a fifth year of eligibility and enter the 2013 NFL Draft. The appeal for a medical hardship waiver -- necessary because he played in the second half of last season -- was always a longshot anyway, and the process has dragged on far too long. Now, at least, we have an answer.
Truth be told, it was pretty apparent that the Apple Cup was Tuel's last game. There was a sense of finality in the way he spoke after the game. He said his goodbyes and seemed content to walk away knowing that game was it. And really, was there a better way to walk away?
The process of appealing for the medical hardship speaks to the kind of person Tuel is, and how he'll be remember at Washington State. He's always been a standup guy, a player you wouldn't have to worry about making mistakes off the field, saying the wrong things or showing any kind of immaturity. He's wise beyond his years and has been since his career at Washington State started.
Tuel did have a chance to earn his appeal. The route to a successful appeal, though, was a little bit dicey. In order to have a chance to win it, Tuel would've had to throw Paul Wulff and the medical staff under the bus.
Here's the key quote from Bud Withers' article:
"That's basically what they were wanting," said Tuel, meaning as a qualification for an additional year. "I was never mistreated by them. It's a combination of that, and how long this has been drug out. If it goes two, three more weeks and they say no, I'm kind of screwed."
Mistreated is the wrong word here. Mishandled is better: He could've told the NCAA he was rushed back into action against his wishes, thus giving himself a chance to win his appeal. He wasn't about that, and it's not much of a surprise. He's never been about throwing anyone under the bus for his own benefit. And, again, saying his injury was mishandled still wouldn't have guaranteed a fifth year; it just would've given him a shot.
And so Tuel walks away with class and grace, just as everyone would expect him to. There was no sense dragging this out and remaining in limbo, so he made the call to let it all go and try his luck in the draft. Don't make this into something it's not: He's not running away from the team or leaving because this past year didn't live up to expectations.
I don't know if Tuel will get picked up, but I wouldn't bet against him. He's struggled at times, but also shown flashes of brilliance too. He's got the physical tools, including the ability to run, but injuries have slowed him down. Given a shot, I have no doubt he'll surprise some people.
As I've said many times before, Jeff Tuel has been an absolute pleasure to watch. He's a great person, a true competitor, and the best "team guy" around. Tuel's been the head-of-the-table in the quarterback meeting room, the guy that keeps everything together and sets the tone -- even when bouncing back and forth between starter and backup. He's respected and liked, a calming influence on the rest of the offense that kept things both light and serious during practice and games.
In the end, this might be good for Connor Halliday, too -- a player Tuel was always close with, serving as a mentor for the young quarterback. Halliday has to be considered the favorite for the starting job, and can go into the offseason with confidence. He's always been battling, and perhaps Tuel's departure will give him a chance to grow, develop and shine while getting some extra work over the next eight months.
Even though the wins didn't come, Tuel left his mark on this program during a difficult period. He should be remembered fondly; he deserves to be remembered as a bright spot and someone who gave everything for his team. He laid his body on the line and spent a ridiculous amount of time limping around after taking a pounding. And he epitomizes the type of player we should want in a Cougar uniform.
And, again, what a way to go out. The lasting memory of Jeff Tuel will be the Apple Cup. And that's a pretty damn good ending.