A little over three years ago, in the back of an interview room, a quiet kid in a stocking cap held court with a few reporters. He had just recorded his first interception, as a true freshman against a tough USC team no less. He looked like he couldn't weight 170 pounds soaking wet, despite quickly building a reputation as a hitter. There was something special about the kid, and it was apparent from the start.
Deone Bucannon announced himself with this hit the week before that USC game. It was a penalty, sure, but it sums up a lot about his career at Washington State.
The Cougars needed a kid that hit like a ton of bricks, even if he looked like he'd break in half on contact. After all, the kid that could lay hat was also skinny as a rail, and didn't have any of the marks of a boisterous, hard-hitting safety.
Spending time around Bucannon for most of his career, it became clear he was a quiet leader. He doesn't say a lot, and when he does you have to lean in to hear him, but he does let his play do the talking -- even when he's on the edge of reckless, or well over the line.
In four years, Bucannon has been a steady presence in the Cougars' defensive backfield -- one of the few bright spots in a unit that's struggled. It's been better as a whole this year, and Bucannon continues to anchor the unit with his play in coverage and especially in the box.
And goodness can the kid hit.
Bucannon plays with a fearlessness that we haven't seen on the defensive side of the ball for a while. But he's managed to harness some of his recklessness -- the rash of personal fouls last season for late or high hits -- as he's matured. He's playing within himself this year, and has improved leaps and bounds as a result.
Which brings us back to that first big hit against SMU, Bucannon's first start as a freshman. That was Bucannon announcing himself, but doing so in a way that crossed a line. While piling up tackles from the start Bucannon would make mistakes, yet he always seemed to learn from them. It took a while for him to figure out how to play within rules that make it difficult for defensive backs to separate the ball from a receiver, but he has.
The seemingly shy kid has grown up and filled out, even if he still speaks in a quiet tone and doesn't talk a lot of smack. He's older, wiser and even more physical, and will likely hear his name called in the NFL Draft. It's been a pleasure watching that skinny, quiet kid grow up, mature, and become a leader on the defensive side of the ball for the Cougs.
If it all works out well, Deone Bucannon will play one more game in a Washington State uniform -- a bowl game that he and the upperclassmen have earned. But as the Apple Cup approaches, consider this a goodbye to the skinny freshman who grew up in front of our eyes and became a hell of a safety while helping pull the Cougs out of some rough times.
Since you'll hear his name a lot over the next six months, say it with me: DAY-own.
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