PULLMAN – What’s in a number? A lot apparently, though just about everyone denies it.
Take Deone Bucannon for example.
The Washington State safety exceeded expectations last season as a freshman, starting eight games and leading the Cougars in tackles. His number 10 jersey seemed to be involved in nearly every play.
Won’t happen this year. Bucannon is wearing 20. A big deal?
“No, the number is not important all,” the sophomore said Tuesday. “I just love playing the game.”
But he did change.
“Yeah, I did switch,” he said, smiling. “But if they had said no, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it.”
Bucannon’s story is fairly typical.
He wore 20 in high school, but got to Washington State and senior running back Marcus Richmond had dibs.
No matter, at first, because Bucannon was expected to redshirt. Until he started to tear up practice.
“I had it when I initially got here,” Bucannon said of 20, “but since I didn’t redshirt I had to switch numbers.”
Cougar equipment manager Josh Pietz deals with the numbers for the 120 or so players, making sure the right numbers are duplicated (two players can wear the same number but they cannot be on the field at the same time; Richmond and Bucannon played on special teams together early in the year which forced Bucannon’s change) and that everyone is, if not happy, at least satisfied.
Numbers are issued by seniority, with scholarship players having priority and field time used as one of the criteria, Pietz said. The final arbiter of all number questions? Coach Paul Wulff.
“To some it’s really important, others not so important,” Pietz said of the numbers game. “A lot of guys like to make their own number. If they get issued a number that they didn’t wear in high school, they’ll take that as a challenge.
“Then there are some kids who come in and want a number because they wore it in high school, which is pretty common.”
Quarterback Connor Halliday (Ferris) is one of those kids.
“I’ve worn 12 my whole life, in every sport and in every game my entire life before last year,” said Halliday, who wore 13 last season while redshirting as senior receiver Jeffrey Solomon represented 12. “My dad wore it. My dad’s brother wore it. So I am just trying to keep the Halliday name going wearing 12.
“I had success wearing 12 back in high school, so it’s more of a mental good luck thing.”
Halliday is one of 15 returning players who changed numbers this season, not an unusual number according to Pietz. There can be as many as five players wanting a number, he said, with single digits always the most popular.
“Walk-ons, they could change three or four times (in their career),” Pietz said, “but scholly guys usually change once to get what they want.”
Washington State has two officially retired numbers, No. 7 for Mel Hein and Jack Thompson’s 14. Three numbers – Leon Bender’s 91, Drew Bledsoe’s 11 and Ryan Leaf’s 16 – have also been on the shelf since the wearers left Pullman, though the numbers have not been retired officially.
For Wulff’s part, he understands the attachment players get to their numbers.
“We all grow up idolizing somebody,” he said. “As a kid, I think everybody picks a number. When we were all 13, 14, 15, I think we all had a favorite number. I don’t know if it’s any different now. For some it’s not really important, but most do care.”
Though he is the court of last resort, Wulff said he’s never had to make a tough decision, though he admits it’s been close until one player capitulates.
So did the former WSU center have a number he was attached to?
“It was important to me until I realized I wasn’t going to wear No. 21 or a teen number,” he said. “When I realized something was going to be above 50, I really didn’t care as much.”