One-by-one, Deone Bucannon ropes in praise from Pac-12 coaches like he ropes in opposing running backs and quarterbacks.
They shower down platitudes like the soft snow that falls on Pullman, Wash., where Washington State’s senior safety has quietly become one of the top defensive prospects in the conference.
Leading a conference in tackles and interceptions through nine games is sure to get your name out.
Arizona State’s Todd Graham: “He’s a guy who sticks out to you on film. One of the things I see about him that I really like is his physicality. Very strong against the run. He does a great job, one of the better safeties in the league.”
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich: “That guy is one of the top DBs in the conference. A big hitter, great range for a guy his size. Physical guy. He’s a tremendous player.”
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, whose team hosts the Cougars at noon Saturday: “He’s a great player, one of the best I’ve seen. Not only from a physical standpoint — make a lot of tackles all over the field — but also playing the ball. He picks passes off, breaks pass up. He’s quite a presence. You can see him all over the field for them in just about every game.”
Rodriguez isn’t lying —Bucannon has been remarkably consistent this season.
He had 12 tackles and an interception against Arizona State. Eight tackles and a tackle-for-loss against Oregon State. Nine tackles, a tackle-for-loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Oregon. Nine tackles and an interception against Stanford. Another 12 tackles, another tackle-for-loss and another interception against Cal.
“He plays the game very, very well,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “With what they do with him — he’s physical, he is savvy. I think he has emerged through the years as one of the better defensive backs in our league. I’ve gained a lot of respect watching him on film through the year.”
His own coaches understand where it comes from.
Bucannon has always been dedicated, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske said that he has added a level of dedication to film study. Scouts project that Bucannon will be the highest-drafted Cougar since wide receiver Jason Hill went in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft.
The extra chalk talks have resulted in a conference-high 85 tackles, 57 solo tackles and five interceptions.
“We try to get him in that position and make use of his talents. An hour ago, he was watching yesterday’s practice,” Breske said Wednesday. “The mental preparation he has put into being a better football player — he’s studying film, asking questions a lot more than he did a year ago. We only get 20 hours a week with these guys. They have to get it in on their own.”
Breske said that “Bucky’s” progress has translated into a process, with his instincts formed throughout the week.
“It’s a process starting on his off day, on Monday, through Tuesday then Wednesday then Thursday, and as you progress mentally, it has to be fast,” Breske said. “There will be some hesitation on Monday or Tuesday, but on Thursday there can’t be.”
All that extra time has not just translated his play, but his presence in the locker room and in the huddle, where head coach Mike Leach considers him a leader, “a guy they kind of draw from.”
“I wish I had 11 of him,” Breske said. “There’s a lot of his traits that if I’m coaching in 2023 will make me say, ‘Hey this is the kind of safety I want. This guy reminds me of Bucky.’ Certainly, he’s one of those guys who I’ve enjoyed coaching, I’ve enjoyed watching.
“And I’ve got the best seat in the house way up top.”