Cason makes his mark at Arizona

PULLMAN — He was a legacy, but the guys in the fraternity that is Washington State football didn’t rush after Antoine Cason.

When Cason traveled from Los Alamitos High in Southern California for his official visit to Pullman in 2003, his brother Dione was there to meet him.

Dione had graduated from Long Beach Poly — Southern California’s best athletic high school and Antoine’s school until his senior year — in 2001 and headed to the Palouse. He was only 5-foot-7, but in the spring of 2002 was the Cougars’ best 400-meter runner.

Younger brother Antoine was taller (about 6-0) and, at the time, not quite as fast. But he was a heck of a football player, a cornerback, All-Orange County, All-CIF, all-everything.

And he was interested in WSU.

“Yes, I was, but I wasn’t,” he recalled in a recent telephone interview. “I wasn’t because they had me up for a visit but they never offered (a scholarship).

“I was because my brother went there at the time and I would have liked to have been with him, but I wasn’t offered.”

“I can’t remember who (was the) secondary coach at the time (Ken Greene), but we weren’t sure whether we wanted to take him or not,” WSU head coach Bill Doba said. “We were worried about his speed, his size, and we missed on him there.”

So, unloved by WSU, he headed south to Arizona, and to the bottom of the Pac-10 standings.

When Cason walked on the Tucson campus, the Wildcats — the only Pac-10 team to have never played in the Rose Bowl — had a stretch of five consecutive non-winning seasons and were coming off a 2-10 year.

In Cason’s tenure, the streak has reached eight, although last season UA was 6-6, just like Washington State, the school that didn’t offer a scholarship. Did that snub tick him off?

“Yes it did, coming out of high school,” he said. “But you get over it.

It wasn’t that big a deal and I ended up at the right place. I wouldn’t take anything back even if I could.”

Cason, now a senior leader, has made his mark in Tucson.

He’s an All-American — in football and track. He’s an All-Pac-10 cornerback. And he’s the one guy in the Wildcats’ secondary to not mess with.

“They like to put him into the boundary a lot,” WSU quarterback Alex Brink said. “He kind of takes half the field (away). Hopefully, our guys outside can play with him. I think they can, but at the same time you have to be aware of him because he’s such a good player.”

He was a good player on a good defense last year, but the team has struggled this season. The Wildcats, with 10 starters back, were expected to have one of the Pac-10’s best defenses. Instead, they are yielding 29.5 points (eighth in the conference) and 369.2 yards (fifth) per game.

“We have to get our attitude back defensively,” Cason said. “We’ve been playing well in the second half, so we just have to get off to a little faster start. The senior leaders, we have to be a little more vocal before the game, make sure we are ready to play. We’ve got to make it be about playing with an attitude and playing with desperation.”

The Wildcats are desperate this week, after opening Pac-10 play with a 45-27 loss to California last Saturday. The defeat dropped Arizona, which expected to vie for a bowl this season, to 1-3 and made Saturday’s game with the Cougars crucial.

“We’re both 0-1 in the Pac-10 and desperately need a win,” Cason said.

before offering a prescription for the Wildcats’ success. “We have to just play hard and have a chip on our shoulder. It’s time to put a win on the board.”

Cougar notes: Four weeks into practice, WSU is relatively healthy. There were no starters from the season’s original two-deep sitting out Wednesday, and only a handful of reserves are nursing injuries. Offensive lineman Grady Maxwell (right knee sprain), receiver Keith Rosenberg (left knee sprain), defensive tackle Matt Eichelberger (right MCL sprain), linebacker Alex Hamill (right foot sprain) and cornerback Brian Williams (neck nerve injury) were out. Backup defensive back Markus Dawes, who had a series of injuries the past two year, is rehabilitating his shoulders, according to coach Bill Doba, and won’t be back. … The Cougars practiced in pads, trying to fine-tune the game plan. They practice without pads today and fly to Arizona on Friday morning.

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