True freshman Bucannon playing like a 5-star

PULLMAN -- The Washington State Cougars rank dead last nationally in defense, but don't blame strong safety Deone Bucannon. The true freshman, who did not turn 18 until Aug. 30, leads the Cougars in tackles despite not starting in four early games. And there's more..

The Pac-10 had Bucannon tied for fourth in the conference in tackles earlier this week, but after corrections were made in tackles counts, Bucannon is tied for third with 73 in 10 games.

"He's going to be one of the great safeties to play the game," WSU free safety Tyree Toomer said. "I'm talking the history of WSU and the next level."

WSU coach Paul Wulff isn't as ready as Toomer to place Bucannon in the Pro Football Hall of Fame just yet, but Wulff has certainly been impressed with the youngster.

"I haven't seen a first-year freshman as good as him in a long time at the safety position," Paul Wulff said.

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Bucannon, whose first name is pronounced Day-OWN, has drawn attention for the ferocity of his tackles as much as the number of them.

"He's out there knocking guys helmets off who weigh a hundred more pounds than him," Toomer said.

"He's got a ‘want-to' to get to the ball," said Chris Ball, the WSU safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. "He's got a great attitude."

BALL DISCOVERED BUCANNON as a junior at Vanden High in Fairfield, Calif. Interestingly, Bucannon lettered in golf four times, but he did not make the varsity in football until his junior year.

"I was a stick," Bucannon said with a smile. "I've always been a skinny person. That's OK. I was usually the youngest person out there, too."

Bucannon, a safety and rover (a linebacker-safety hybrid) in high school, won league defensive player of the year honors in both his varsity seasons. He chose WSU over Arizona State, Nevada, San Diego State, Army and Cal Poly.

"He's got great speed," Ball said. "He's very physical."

Bucannon, whose parents both served in the military, said he was sold on WSU after he made his campus visit.

"Everyone was just different -- they were nice," he said. "If you make eye contact with somebody, they say, ‘Hi.' In California, it's different."

THE 6-FOOT-1 Bucannon says he now weighs 184 pounds, but he agrees with Ball and Wulff that his first full-time winter session of weight training will be invaluable. Strength is just one of the areas where Bucannon and others say he can improve.

"To come in and play at the level he's playing at is amazing … (but) he doesn't even know what he's doing yet on the field," Toomer said. "He's still learning the defense. He's ‘raw' at the position. He's just going out there and playing on instinct."

"Last week, he missed seven tackles," Ball said. "Another game, he missed six. Add 13 more in there -- and he's missed three or four (in other games) -- and he's probably leading the Pac-10 in tackles."

BALL AND BUCANNON praise Toomer at length for helping Bucannon develop, on and off the field.

"He's someone I can rely on on the field," Bucannon said. "He always has my back. I think he's one of the best safeties. I've never seen anyone with his work ethic ever. EVER. He's always in the film room."

Often as not, Bucannon is seated right beside Toomer.

"I've definitely made some mistakes," Bucannon said. "I expected to make mistakes. I need to learn from them. Watch film. Get better every game."

Bucannon was ranked three stars by -- but was also far down the three star ladder, slotted as the 102nd best prospect at the safety position nationally in the 2010 class.

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