Deone Bucannon showed up to his introductory press conference at two o’clock sharp on Friday afternoon, wearing a suit and dark blue tie. The Cardinals’ first-round pick out of Washington State wasn’t accompanied by his parents, but the values they’ve instilled – punctuality, passion, perseverance-- were on full display as he spoke with the local media.
While the Cardinals’ newest strong safety had enough physical gifts to be considered in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft, General Manager Steve Keim has always said a player’s desire is the toughest intangible to judge.
After a pre-draft meal with Bucannon at Chandler steakhouse Fleming’s, Keim knew he found the right man.
“You sit down with a guy and you have an opportunity to have dinner, and you look him in the eyes, and you see what they’re made of,” Keim said. “Some guys within a couple of minutes turn you off and you realize this guy is not for us … (Bucannon) convinces you what you saw on tape is also what you see in person.”
Bucannon was raised by his father, Duane, a member of the Marine Corps, and his mother, Sonji, a veteran of the Navy.
While the scenery changed often, the message never did.
“You hear military family and you think, ‘Oh, it’s just this guy and he has no say,’ and things like that, but it’s not like that,” Bucannon said. “It’s just that there is a right and a wrong thing to do, and there is a right and a wrong way to do things. That’s really what my mom and dad instilled in me.”
Bucannon had just four scholarship offers out of high school – from Washington State, San Diego State, Cal Poly and Nevada – and the Cougars’ program won only 15 of 49 games during his four-year career. There was also coaching change in the middle of it, but despite the turbulence, Bucannon remained zeroed in on his long-time goal of making it to the NFL.
He played well as a junior and then gained 17 pounds in the offseason before his senior year to become a more physical player. He finished the 2013 season with 114 tackles, six interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, earning First Team All-America honors by the Associated Press.
“My dad told me you can’t play this game if you’re just going through the motions,” Bucannon said. “That’s not the way I play this game. I love the camaraderie. I love making plays for my team.”
Bucannon’s stock really rose at the NFL Scouting combine, when he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and performed well in the other drills. The physical accomplishments piqued the Cardinals’ interest, and his interview made them total believers.
“This young man, I couldn’t find anything negative about him,” defensive backs coach Nick Rapone said. “And then when we went to the combine and talked to him, he came off as such a structured, humble young man that I came away and wrote in my notes, ‘This kid’s actions will speak so loud he’ll never have to say a word.’”
Bucannon was projected as a second-round pick but clearly became a favorite of the Cardinals’ front office. He was at home with friends and family when the call came from Keim, coach Bruce Arians and team president Michael Bidwill, informing Bucannon he would be the draft’s No. 27 overall selection.
“He was very emotional from the get-go, as I anticipated,” Keim said. “But that’s what you love. You would hate to call a kid and he sounds like he’s sitting on the couch watching ‘Gilligan’ or something. He’s excited.”
Bucannon will begin working out with the Cardinals next week, where he is expected to become the starting strong safety in a secondary which includes cornerback
“Those are all Pro Bowl players,” Bucannon said. “I just want to come into the mix and fit right in. I want to come in and fit right in and show them the kind of player I am.”