PULLMAN – It has been a productive week for Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, who found out he is headed to not one, but two, bowl games.
The senior will play with his WSU teammates against Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl and then join other seniors from around the country to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 26 in the annual NFL draft showcase.
“That was true honor,” Bucannon said. “That’s something you dream about as a kid and it’s all just kind of hitting me. I just want to get out there and represent Washington State the best I possibly can, and represent my family the best I possibly can, and just do what I can and control what I can control.”
First, Bucannon and his teammates have some unfinished business in Albuquerque.
The news that WSU qualified for its first bowl game in a decade was met with resounding enthusiasm from Cougars faithful. Nearly 4,000 tickets have been purchased through the university, the Cougar Athletic Fund is at its highest level of donations and the alumni association has put together all-inclusive charter flight packages and additional flights for fans willing to pay.
For the upperclassmen on the team, who largely make up the contributors on Saturdays, the game has additional meaning. It’s validation for their decision to stick with the program through the lean years.
About to play in their last college football game, WSU’s seniors leave behind a program that is building facilities befitting of a major conference program, rising in the online recruiting rankings and playing in the postseason.
“That warms my heart and makes me understand that we’re going somewhere and we’ve done something,” Bucannon said. “All that hard work we did in the spring, winter, those long practices, those double days are all paying off.”
The Cougars continue to profess their belief in the tunnel-vision dedication to incremental improvement that led them to their first .500 season since 2006. All year the coaches have espoused the virtues focusing on the next game, series and snap.
Coach Mike Leach said that learning to do that played a large role in WSU’s late-season run to bowl eligibility.
“The value of focusing on individual effort, individual plays simultaneously together over an extended period, and I think that’s where we improved the most,” Leach said. “We’ve got a long ways to go, but I think steady improvement of that kind of suggests where you’re headed if you do that.”
The seniors who watched former players such as Jeff Tuel and Travis Long never see this type of fruition for the work they put in understand that their legacy is built on the foundation those players built.
“They’re a huge part of it,” senior center Elliott Bosch said. “Way back when we didn’t have any leadership and it was guys like that stepping up and teaching guys how to be leaders and stepping up and being leaders that helped get this thing going. So it’s not just this senior class. There were guys that came before that were a big part of it, too.”
With a win in Albuquer- que, the seniors can add to their legacy and to the foundation upon which future players can stand.