PULLMAN – Last year at this time, Deone Bucannon was prepping to play his last football season for Vanden High in Fairfield, Calif.
The opponent in the opener? Armijo High, another Fairfield school.
The crowd? “Maybe 100 or so,” Bucannon said Wednesday, smiling.
And yes, the Washington State University freshman safety knows there will be quite a few more in Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
“It’s exciting, really,” Bucannon said.
And nerve-wracking, as he readily admitted. The Cougars will rely on more than a handful of true freshmen in the season opener vs. Oklahoma State, which is also a little nerve-wracking for Paul Wulff, though not as bad as it could be.
“It could if we were depending on them all to start and have major impacts,” he said Thursday when asked if playing so many true freshmen made him nervous. “The majority of them are going to be in back up roles and hopefully get some playing time as we move through the game.
“I’m very confident in a lot of them. I know that, even though they’re true freshmen, they’re better players than what we’ve been working with in terms of adding to our depth.”
The Cougars will take 20 freshmen to Stillwater, including nine fresh out of high school.
Besides Bucannon, who is backing up senior safety Chima Nwachukwu, other first-year freshman who will probably see significant action include right tackle John Fullington, wide receiver Marquess Wilson, cornerback Damante Horton, linebacker C.J. Mizell and running back Rickey Galvin, along with others on the special teams.
No matter what, it’s a wish fulfilled for the freshmen, though not something any of them expected.
“At first, it was hard to believe that I would be able to come in here and do what I’ve been doing,” said Wilson, who is 6-foot-3 and 173 pounds.
“I was hoping I could play right away,” the 6-5, 285-pound Fullington said. “That was my thought process. During training, I was thinking I need to train like I’m going to play.”
“I just wanted to go 100 percent until I got the opportunity,” said Bucannon, 6-1 and 186 pounds. “If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
It did for all of them.
Wilson, who is the Cougars’ fourth wide-out this week, said he started believing in himself “about halfway through the first week of training camp.”
“I had the ability to make plays and to learn from the older guys, the older receivers,” he answered when asked what made him think that way.
But your first college game in a loud, fan-filled stadium can be more than you expect.
Jared Karstetter knows. His first collegiate game was in Qwest Field two years ago and came against the same opponent, Oklahoma State. It also could have gone better.
“I learned a lot that game,” Karstetter said. “I haven’t talked to (Marquess) individually yet, but I think the biggest thing for any freshman coming out on the field is just to remember it’s just ball. Just play football. It’s no different than playing against our guys out here.
“The game’s faster (so young) guys tend to break routes off and try to play outside themselves. If you just do your job and don’t try to be the all-star like you were in high school every play, things will take care of themselves. You just need to stay calm.”
Fullington, who doesn’t think he’s ever played in front of more than 2,000 people, seems like the type who will.
“It will be a little different,” he said. “I’ve thought about it. I’m just getting mentally ready. I can’t let it get to me.
“It will be awesome coming out, crowded, loud, other person’s place, but you’ve just got to play your game. You can’t let it get to you.”