April 12, 2013 in Sports

Palacio holding fast in bid for starting spot for Cougars

By The Spokesman-Review
 
EWU practice

Story /B6

PULLMAN – More than a year ago, defensive coordinator Mike Breske sat in his office and rattled off the physical attributes possessed by each of the four high-school linebackers Washington State had signed a week prior.

Kache Palacio’s name came up. Breske paused.

“You know he’s a soccer player?” Breske said, marveling. “That’s a big soccer player. How’d you like to run into that?”

Pac-12 opponents are likely to find out this coming season, because Palacio, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound sophomore from Gardena, Calif., is making a strong case to see the field quite a bit at the buck linebacker position.

With Logan Mayes out this spring because of injury, Palacio has emerged as WSU’s top candidate to receive most of the repetitions with the No. 1 defense.

On Thursday, he showed why, blowing straight past right tackle Rico Forbes and into the backfield to record a “sack” of quarterback Connor Halliday.

That’s Palacio’s best asset. He’s a speed specialist who tormented opposing offenses in high school from the defensive end position, and is now hoping to establish himself as one of WSU’s most valued pass-rushers.

“That’s my bread and butter,” he said.

Palacio is also learning how to drop back into coverage and run with eligible receivers, something he wasn’t asked to do much in high school. He’s learning.

And he’s had help.

“It was pretty easy because I had Travis Long in front of me, so I was kind of feeding off him,” Palacio said of his transition last season, playing behind WSU’s senior defensive leader. “He was showing me a lot of stuff and he kind of helped me go through the stuff when I was working with him. Now I’m more comfortable at it.”

WSU coach Mike Leach, an infrequent distributor of gushing individual praise, has noticed Palacio’s growing comfort.

“(He) plays really fast, high level of intensity, has picked up quite a bit,” Leach said. “Kind of an instinctive guy. Matter of fact, he’s one of the guys having one of the better springs of our group. I don’t know how to nail it down – it changes from one day to the next – but he’s having one of the best springs on our team.”

Palacio played in all 12 of the Cougars’ games last season, finishing with eight tackles while playing mostly on special teams. But he did get on the field with the defense from time to time as part of WSU’s speed package.

“He’s a hungry guy – a lot of energy, a lot of athletic ability,” said outside linebackers coach Paul Volero. “Still working trying to get bigger, but he’s only starting to absorb what we’re doing. But he’ll get better every day.”

There’s no more time for soccer, though, Palacio said with a laugh. But he’s glad he played the sport growing up.

“I’m faster,” he said. “Quick on my feet.”

Bontemps at DB

Bennett Bontemps, a senior slot receiver, has been wearing a white defensive jersey and working with the defensive backs the past two practices.

It could be a move to shore up depth on that side of the ball – safety Deone Bucannon and cornerbacks Damante Horton, Nolan Washington and Alex Jackson are all out with injuries – but Leach said he wants to capitalize on Bontemps’ previous experience at safety.

“He’s played safety in the past,” Leach said. “He seems pretty enthusiastic and aggressive over there.”

Notes

WSU will scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium, its final scrimmage of the spring before next weekend’s Crimson and Gray game at Albi Stadium. … Receiver Isiah Myers sat out Thursday’s practice because of injury, and receiver Dominique Williams left practice with an apparent injury during the team session.

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