I still remember the first time Deone Bucannon made me say "wow." It was a game against SMU in 2010, the third of his freshman season. Bucannon started for the first time and taking a page out of Nuke LaLoosh's book, announced his presence with authority.
He obliterated a SMU wide receiver on the Mustang's opening possession (coincidentally, Mike Leach was the color analyst).
It turned out that play was a sign of things to come. Bucannon has gone on to make more "wow" plays than I could possibly count and he's done so while drawing the occasional flag or two.
Known as one of the biggest hitters in the Pac-12, Bucannon has provided countless highlights during his four seasons at WSU. From huge hits, to interceptions to touchdown saving tackles, he's played at a level above most of his peers. WSU hasn't been very good defensively during Bucannon's career, but the numbers would have been so much uglier if he wasn't around to clean up the mess. If WSU kept a stat of touchdown-saving tackles, I have no doubt Bucannon would have the record.
His exploits go beyond his play on the field. He's been one of the leaders of the defense and carried himself extremely well off the field. Despite dishing out so many big hits, Bucannon comes off as one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.
Being one of a few stars on the team earlier in his career, it would have been easy for Bucannon to develop a selfish attitude. To play with a me-first mentality and start focusing on his NFL prospects instead of trying to rebuild the Cougars. He's done the opposite of that. When asked about his NFL prospects this week, he once again put the team first (starts around the 10:00 mark).
"I'm completely, 100 percent, focused on Cougar football. To even have an opportunity, the slightest opportunity or whatever it is, to realize your dream and to be able to accomplish something that you've dreamed about for a long time would be truly blessing. But right now, I'm completely focused on Cougar football and trying to get these last two or three games, possibly three games that we could have, and together and focus on these games and whatever happens later on, that'll happen. Right now, that can wait. That really has nothing to do with me. All I can do is be the best player I can be for my team for this last stretch and that's what I'm going to do."
That quote essentially sums up who Bucannon is. He's a great player on the field, a great teammate and person off it and a great Coug. As fun as it will be to see Bucannon go to the next level and accomplish that dream, it's going to be really sad to see him go. We'll always have the Bu-Cannon.
Here is a quick look at the other 17 seniors being honored on Saturday.
Matthew Bock, defensive end
A former walk-on, Bock played his way into the rotation at defensive end. He started five games last season, recording 1.5 sacks. He hasn't played as much this season, but is another example of a hard-working guy who maximized his talent, a theme of this senior class.
Elliott Bosch, center
The former walk-on may not have ideal size, but he developed into a solid starting center the last two seasons. The offensive line has gotten better with Bosch starting and I don't doubt his leadership is a big reason why. Leach called Bosch "one of the biggest overachievers I've ever coached" which is a significant compliment. From now on, all undersized offensive linemen will be called "possibly the next Elliott Bosch." Eat your heart out, Wes Welker.
Mike Bowlin, punter
It's been an up-and-down two seasons for Bowlin, but at times he's been everything WSU wanted and more. He made touchbacks a thing again while unleashing some booming punts with a long of 69 yards. His punt against Auburn that pinned the Tigers at the 1-yard line was a thing of beauty.
Zach Brevick, offensive lineman
Another former walk-on, Brevick played his way into a key special teams role. I first noticed him last season when I had to stop and rewind the DVR several times to figure out who was the huge guy in the wedge blowing people up.
Leon Brooks, running back
Possibly the best fair-catcher in WSU history. We joke a lot about Brooks constantly calling for fair catches on punts, but that would sell him short. He walked on and played his way into a key role for the Cougars for four seasons. He's been about as steady of a punt returner as you could ask for, rarely fumbling or losing yards. And when he does take one back, or get in on offense, he's proven to be an explosive player. If you saw his 40-yard run against Cal last year, you'd probably never know he was a former walk-on.
Jared Byers, linebacker
The former walk-on from Pullman started his career at fullback and caught a touchdown pass in the win against Colorado in 2011. He moved to linebacker with the new staff and has backed up Darryl Monroe the last two years. He's played on defense and special teams, laying a few big hits along the way. He's another guy who maximized his talent and gives full effort at all times.
Anthony Carpenter, cornerback
If an opposing return man got laid out at any point in the last four years, there is a good chance is was Carpenter on the hit. He's also played quite a bit of defense, including starting the final six games last season and playing well. He bounced between safety and corner during his career, never really getting the chance to settle into a position. Still, he's always found a way to contribute, appearing in at least 10 games the last four seasons.
Rico Forbes, offensive lineman
Injuries likely robbed Forbes of the career he could have had. He came to WSU highly touted but missed two seasons due to knee injuries. He opened this season as the starting right tackle. Some players would have called it quits after the injury luck Forbes had, but to his credit he stuck it out and kept working.
John Fullington, offensive lineman
Fullington has been one of the few constants along the offensive line for the last four seasons. He's going to finish his WSU career with at least 42 starts and probably should have started from Day 1 as a freshman. He's played four of the five spots along the offensive line, doing whatever needed. Was named an all-conference honorable mention for both his play on the field and his academics during his career.
Andrew Furney, kicker
It's very rare to find a good college kicker, especially one who's been as good and consistent has Furney. He's made 76 percent of his attempts and that includes a few blocked kicks. Probably the best compliment I could give him is how calm he makes fans. Whether it's the 60-yarder against EWU, the game winner in the Apple Cup or the 41-yard kick to beat USC, fans are confident he's going to make every kick.
WSU has had a few good kickers come through including Jason Hanson and Rian Lindell. Furney has absolutely earned his place along side those guys in the record book.
Junior Gauta, defensive tackle
Gauta is a beast. It's really as simple as that. When he came to WSU, the Cougar defensive line was a mess. He stepped in from the get-go and he's a big reason for the improvement the last two years. He's deserving of all-conference honors and will be sorely missed next season. A lot of junior college recruits fail to live up to expectations. Gauta is an example of one who not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it.
Matt Goetz, offensive lineman
Goetz doesn't have the size to play in the system. He's not the best athlete on the team. Yet somehow he's just there doing his job. He's started the last five games and WSU's offensive line has been at its best when he's in the lineup. He's going to finish his career with at least 21 starts.
Damante Horton, corner
If WSU makes a bowl this season, Bill Moos should reserve a spot in the Cougar Hall of Fame for Horton, based entirely on his performance against USC. The soft-spoken Horton is always in the mix. Sometimes that has led to some fortunate interceptions, but he's made plenty of plays along the way. His interception against OSU last year, where he got beat then stole the ball from the receiver and turned a touchdown into an interception is still one of the best picks I've seen.
Casey Locker, safety
There is a 98 percent chance Pac-12 refs will throw an unnecessary roughness flag against Locker for hugging his family too hard during the senior day festivities. Locker hit everything that moved during his Cougar career. He dished out his fair share of huge hits, but even when wasn't blowing someone up, he just tackled hard. No matter who WSU recruited to play safety, Locker always played his way into the mix, a credit to the work he's put in.
Eric Oertel, linebacker
Oertel came to WSU from Wisconsin. I'm not sure he quite ever got the shot he deserved with the previous coaching staff playing him midway through his freshman season, then moving him between linebacker and running back. He settled at linebacker with the new staff and has played a role on defense and special teams. He always seems to be around the ball and is one of the top special teams players on the roster.
Justin Sagote, linebacker
Like Gauta, Sagote is an example of a junior college player who was able to step in right away and help the team. He started 10 games last year and will likely start every game this season. He flies around, plays hard and has been a significant contributor for WSU. He is also coming off possibly the best game of his career and was a major reason the Cougars were able to limit Ka'Deem Carey last week.
Nolan Washington, corner
One of the key recruits in Paul Wulff's first class, Washington was part of the group that was supposed to help turn WSU around. Of that original class of 23, Washington, Carpenter and Locker are the only three remaining. Some never made it to Pullman, some left early and some had their senior day last year. Washington could never shake the injury bug during his career and it seemed every time he was ready to take a step forward, he would get hurt and have to start all over.
To his credit, he never quit. Not when he was injured and not when he lost playing time to Daquawn Brown this season. Brown replaced Washington in the starting lineup four games ago. With just a few games remaining in the season, Washington could have put practice on cruise control. Instead, he had a great week of practice last week and earned the starting job back. He also played very well against Arizona. You couldn't ask for much more.
This senior class may not be full of stars or loaded with All-Pac-12 types. It is, however, loaded with leaders. When Leach compared last year's senior class to zombies, he was highlighting the traits that grouped lacked. The exact traits this group has. They work hard, they play with great effort and they maximize their talent. They are a big reason why WSU is playing for a bowl instead of slogging through another 3-win season.
Some of these guys have lost 43 games during their WSU careers. To wake up in the wee hours of the morning and continue to go through workouts and practices despite getting your head knocked in 43 times is really incredible.
A few have talked about wanting to be the class that turns things around and gets WSU back to a bowl game. Hopefully all of their hard work pays off on Saturday and they walk out of Martin Stadium with a win and do just that.