For Washington State receiver Lucas Bacon, getting through the gantlet of congratulations required more energy than the play itself.
But there was plenty to celebrate.
First career start, first career catch for his first career touchdown. One thing about college football: Teammates are keenly aware of one another’s milestones, especially if you’re talking about a walk-on who has earned the scholarship players’ respect.
Bacon caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jayden de Laura in the first quarter Saturday against Oregon, sparking a strong first-half performance by the Cougars and inspiring a lengthy round of hugs and high-fives for the sophomore from Spokane.
Then officials called for a video review to make sure Bacon’s knee hadn’t touched the turf before he sprawled over the goal line. When they confirmed the call, the hugs and high-fives began anew.
“Amazing — they’ve got so much love for me and I’ve got so much love for them,” Bacon said of teammates Monday in a post-practice Zoom news conference. “I was probably more tired getting through to the bench on the sideline than actually scoring on the play.”
The Cougars wound up losing 43-29 to the No. 11 Ducks in the Pac-12 game in Pullman, but de Laura and his receivers enjoyed several bright moments along the way. Wazzu takes a 1-1 record into another league game at Stanford (0-2) on Saturday (8 p.m., FS1).
The love for Bacon came even from the Martin Stadium press box, where senior receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. was watching and tweeting, having been held out of the game for unspecified reasons. Bacon is Jackson’s understudy at the X position and got his first WSU start because of his absence.
“Bacon has come a long way,” Jackson wrote on Twitter, “the thing people don’t understand is how hard this kid works. I’m proud of what he has become but he’s only scratching the surface...save this tweet for later trust me.”
The support didn’t go unappreciated.
“We’re great friends off the field,” Bacon said. “I root for him when he’s in the game, and he roots for me. To be embraced by a guy like that who has so much game experience and to pick up whatever he has to tell me — it’s really awesome for him to take me in as that kind of friend and to believe in me as that type of player.”
For one thing, the Cougars have noticed how intently Bacon studies the game.
While he was piling up receptions that would eventually break a Mead High School career record, he also was routinely traveling from Spokane to Cheney on Saturdays to watch Eastern Washington games and study the route-running and general mojo of uncanny receiver Cooper Kupp, who at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds is about the same size as Bacon. Kupp now plays for the Los Angeles Rams.
Bacon came to WSU as a preferred walk-on in 2018, joining a school that multiple family members had attended, including an uncle who played receiver for the Cougs in 1985, Jeff Christensen. Bacon appeared in only one game last year as a second-year freshman, but during drills this preseason he repeatedly drew praise from coaches and players.
“Win or loss, to see a walk-on guy come in — the whole offseason, preparing like he’s a starter, and wants to be a starter, just working his butt off,” WSU left tackle Liam Ryan said after the Oregon game. “He’s a character off the field, I can say that. But when he puts in so much work, you kind of expect things to happen that way. Congratulations to Lucas for his first of many.”
First-year WSU coach Nick Rolovich said Tuesday he wasn’t sure what Ryan meant by the “character off the field” comment, but theorized Bacon unveils a different side of his personality when coaches aren’t around.
During the summer and early fall, when the Pac-12 equivocated on whether to play football this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, many WSU players returned to their homes throughout the country and trained there. Not Bacon.
“I really didn’t leave Pullman,” he said. “I just stuck with the strength staff and really just followed their plan, what they had going for me. It really just started to fall into place once everything started to happen toward the season.”
From there, it was a matter of waiting for his opportunities. His big one against the Ducks came on first-and-10 after Deon McIntosh had rumbled 29 yards on a shovel-pass reception. Bacon slipped past cornerback Mykael Wright, caught a bullet from de Laura, then plunged below a diving safety near the left pylon.
It was unquestionably a touchdown, but officials called for a video review anyway. So Bacon, in addition to all the love, said he caught a bit of static from fellow receivers in a subsequent video session. They said he should have either bulldozed the safety or hurdled him.
“So maybe I’ll pull something out the next time I get the ball like that,” he said.
Although Rolovich had been pleased with the tenor of Monday’s practice, he detected some “hangover” from the loss to Oregon on Tuesday, at least on offense. “We can’t let Oregon beat us twice,” he said.
Donn Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.