Palacio said Monday he and McLennan, both seniors and highly competitive with one another, found out they were cousins from family members not long after McLennan arrived at WSU out of junior college in 2013 (both families have roots in Belize).
Palacio is well known as one of the biggest characters on the Cougar squad -- and he had a quip at the ready.
"Every time I went to a family event, 'You know that McLennan kid? He's your cousin.' I didn't want to believe it, 'Oh no, not him! Anybody but him!'" said Palacio to laughter from the room.
Palacio, Eduardo Middleton and Dom Williams, the three players WSU made available this week through Monday pressers, are all from California and are relishing the thought of playing at UCLA on Saturday night (7:45 p.m., ESPN). Every Cougar game is on TV but there’s something special for family to see it live.
“I’ve got a lot of family and friends coming to the game, so that definitely should be fun,” Middleton said. “I was a USC fan growing up, but none of those guys showed me love out of high school, so now I’m just anxious to beat up UCLA.”
“I’m always excited to go home and play in front of family and friends that don’t get to come up here and see me play,” Williams said.
“I always wanted to play in the Rose Bowl growing up,” Palacio said. “Going back home, getting to see my family and (have) my family support me (at) the game.”
IMPROVING EACH WEEK has become an oft-repeated mantra this season around the Wazzu program -- you’ll regularly hear Mike Leach preach after games and practices, "We're improving." After a blitz-happy Arizona State team came to Pullman, Middleton saw improvement but said o-line coach Clay McGuire also pointed out some so-so play in film session.
“He was proud of how we played with the adjustments and different positions (guys were playing). He thought we responded pretty well to that. Overall, I’d say he was pretty proud -- but definitely things to improve on,” said Middleton.
Leach cited Williams earlier this season as perhaps the most improved player on the team. When asked where he thought he’d improved, Williams focused on size and his mental toughness.
“I’ve gotten a lot bigger, a lot more muscle mass,” he said. “My mindset is more on (this): the guy across from me is not going to win no matter what. Ten out of 10, I’m going to win.”
A fellow outside receiver has also helped Williams grow.
“Especially with Gabe Marks coming back, his competitive edge, he and I are always going at it in practice to get the most catches,” he said.
GETTING TO SIX wins and bowl eligibility is an accomplishment but just like Luke Falk and others said after the game, it’s not enough. Middleton touched on that Monday.
“Being bowl eligible, it’s nice getting that sixth win, but definitely not satisfied,” he said. “We want to keep progressing every week and win every game we can … It’s nice, but that’s not our final goal.”
But for Palacio it’s his last rodeo as a collegian, so you better believe he’s excited about it.
“Last year, going out with a bang,” said the ever-smiling Palacio. “We’re trying to get the best bowl game possible … We want to win every game (to get the best bowl).”
Williams is a fifth-year senior but he had a different take.
“Honestly, it doesn’t really mean anything to me,” he said. “I see one game at a time… I’m just looking forward to the next game.”
Thoughts on UCLA:
Palacio, closing in on top 10 in sacks at WSU, on getting to QB Josh Rosen: Hopefully he holds onto the ball more than usual … He looks pretty good back there throwing -- pretty excited to go after him, though.
Middleton on UCLA: We know they’re going to be good, they’re going to be talented up front, and expecting a challenge … but we’ll get it done.
Palacio on UCLA Offense: They have great running backs, good players on the outside … and their line is physical.
Palacio on DC Alex Grinch's mentality: He’s always pumped up and brings a lot of energy… (Turnovers) became a mindset … Run to the ball, if you don’t run to the ball you can’t get the ball. If you play hard, the ball will come out … Now when you run to the ball, 'OK, I can strip it.’
Middleton on switching from right guard to left guard vs. ASU: It’s the same position, just a little different with footwork, but it’s not too bad. I’ve moved around a lot since I’ve been here, played almost every position (on the line), so it wasn’t too difficult. But still a little bit of a learning process … Definitely a little awkward at first.
Williams on receivers he’s watched to get better: I’ve been watching Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant, old Jerry Rice clips. There’s 1,000 different ways you can get open … choose one and make it work.