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Cougars linebacker Kache Palacio learned art of sacks at early age

Washington State’s Kache Palacio recovers a fumble during the Cougars’ home game against Colorado in 2012. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State’s Kache Palacio recovers a fumble during the Cougars’ home game against Colorado in 2012. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Working a paper route or building a lemonade stand would have been safer methods for a young Kache Palacio to get pick up some pocket money.

But chasing after other kids and throwing them into the ground was far more lucrative.

Emile Palacio, Kache’s father, told his son he would give him $10 each time he sacked a quarterback in his youth football league.

But the little ball of energy – he’s never lost that – had already-developed speed and an intensity that belied his age, enabling him to bring down quarterbacks at a rate that threatened to bankrupt his dad, despite playing against primarily 7- and 8-year-olds when he was 6.

The sack bounty rate had to be adjusted, but Emile hadn’t wanted Kache to play football in the first place.

“I didn’t want him to,” Palacio said. “But right before his birthday he asked for shoulder pads and then I said, ‘Well, if you do play, you’ll play flag,’ and he said, ‘I want to play tackle.’ ”

Emile, who played in the World Football League, was a single father at the time, but joined a local semi-pro team so Kache would have an example to follow. Then the two began a competition to see who could tally the most sacks each week.

Kache played his high school ball at Junipero Serra in Gardena, California, but went away to Washington State for college. He found a new person to compete with in Pullman: fellow outside linebacker Ivan McLennan.

The two both played Buck outside linebacker in former defensive coordinator Mike Breske’s scheme, and they are the two Rush linebackers under Alex Grinch. While there was never much open friction between the two, Palacio acknowledges that there was some distance because both players were competing for one starting spot.

“When I first met him he was more about business,” Palacio said. “We got along, but it wasn’t as close as it is now. It was more, ‘You’re against me, I’m against you’ at first. That’s kind of the way he was. I was more, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ ”

But the tension went away when the players found out they’re related.

Emile Palacio and McLennan’s mother are cousins and both from Belize. But they went a long time without seeing each other, even when their sons played against each other in high school, until an unexpected reunion during WSU’s 2013 game at USC.

Palacio and McLennan are now close friends, although they’re always in competition. On the football field, it’s easy to compete. As the two track their sacks, if one brings the quarterback down, the other feels even more motivated to get a sack of his own.

Maybe it helps, too, that the starting position has remained in flux. McLennan started the season opener against Portland State. Palacio started the next two games and McLennan has started since.

But the Cougars also don’t mind getting both on the field in certain scenarios. And that’s just fine with the cousins.

“They’re always elbowing me. They both want to be out there,” outside linebackers coach Roy Manning said. “We probably did it more early in the season. but that’s definitely ideal if you ask one of those guys.”

Emile still coaches Kache – the two often video chat while the linebacker is in the film room. But he might get more benefit at this point in his career from his phone calls with his stepmother, Darla Palacio.

Kache has always had trouble putting on weight. Excessive metabolism is the byproduct of his surplus energy and he’s still only 231 pounds. He’s become that heavy thanks to multihour phone calls with Darla, who will explain calorie-rich recipes to Kache while he cooks.

Palacio is tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with five sacks and last week moved into WSU’s all-time Top 10 list of sack leaders. He will need to keep putting on weight and impress scouts over his final four games to give himself a chance at the NFL.

While CBS Sports projects Palacio as a long shot to get drafted this spring, a player as productive and athletic as he is likely to at least get an opportunity in an NFL training camp.

If he can do that, then somebody besides his dad will be paying him to sack quarterbacks in the near future.

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