USA Today Sports/Charles LeClaire

Catching up with old WSU Cougars Xavier Cooper and Deone Bucannon

SEATTLE — The bright lights of the NFL haven’t changed Xavier Cooper. The former Cougar standout wears his appreciation for Washington State and his hometown of Tacoma on his sleeve.

He’s been back in the City of Destiny “every day” since wrapping up his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 3.

“I wake up in Tacoma and go to sleep in Tacoma,” the 6-4, 300-pound defensive lineman told Saturday at the “Night with Cougar Football” event at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle.

He’s been training this off-season with retired Seahawks Pro Bowler and Cougar legend Marcus Trufant and Trufant’s young brother, Desmond, of the Atlanta Falcons.

All three are products of Tacoma’s Wilson High. When Cooper graduated from Wilson in 2010, the NFL was a distant dream due to a learning disability that was undermining his academics.

“I only had one scholarship offer and that was to Washington State. They gave me an opportunity to get my education and play football,” Cooper said.

Other schools were scared off by the learning disability, but then-WSU assistant coach Mike Levenseller (yet another product of the Tacoma pipeline to Pullman) proposed that Cooper grayshirt, take courses at Tacoma Community College and then enroll at WSU.

“What I did on the football field was hard work and determination and now it’s got me to the National Football League. But I wouldn’t have got there without WSU,” he said.

His first regular-season game with the Browns, in Week 3 against Oakland, was a true milestone. “Running through that tunnel it was like, ‘Hey, I made it, man.’ Not just for me but for my family and for my city. That was a great feeling,” he said.

Cooper saw action in 14 games, posting 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Week 15 contest against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field was another landmark moment for Cooper.

“I had my family behind me and I can tell that the Seahawks fans wanted to win. But anytime me or (former University of Washington defensive lineman) Danny Shelton made a play, I could just feel the vibe was positive.”

COOPER WASN’T THE ONLY NFL COUG at Saturday’s “Night with Cougar Football.” The list of past and present pros was long and included Deone Bucannon, a 2013 All-American safety that the Arizona Cardinals have turned into a linebacker.

This past season, Bucannon emerged as one of the NFL’s most versatile defensive weapons, a hybrid linebacker/safety that the Cardinals coaching staff dubbed the ‘moneybacker.’ He started every game for the NFC West champions, finishing with 112 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown.

“I like it a lot,” Bucannon said of his moneybacker role. “I’m thankful that the Cardinals, they made a position for me to get out there and be an every-down guy. I love it. You don’t question it, you just get out there and you play.”

Playing for Arizona has afforded him the experience of playing for one the league’s more colorful characters in Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.

“He’s an awesome coach,” Bucannon said. “Everything you see, what he does in interviews, the type of guy you imagine him to be, that’s exactly who he is. Great stand-up guy, a person you can relate to. That’s who he is.”

Bucannon’s breakout 2015 campaign didn’t go unnoticed by NFL analysts. writer Chris Wesseling called him the “glue holding the run-stuffing front seven and the ballhawking secondary together” on a defense that includes star defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson.

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