By Stacy Rost

Kache Palacio does not remember this, but he first met Pete Carroll when he was seven years old.

His dad, Emile Palacio, took him to a USC practice where Carroll was coaching defensive end Kenechi Udeze. The way Emile tells it, a precocious young Palacio told the Hall of Fame coach that he was going to take Udeze’s spot one day.

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The next time they met, Kache was in the eighth grade. This one he does remember. He and his friend went to a game in the Valley where Carroll was scouting and afterward went onto the field, where Kache told Carroll he wanted to play for him.

But the third time they met would prove to be far more consequential. It was a call Kache, quite literally, wasn’t ready for.

“I was asleep,” he said. “My dad woke me up and said ‘Hey, Seattle wants to talk to you.’”

A New Challenge

Palacio didn’t end up playing at USC, and by the time he was a freshman Carroll had already accepted a head coaching position with the Seahawks. However, Palacio did have a productive career at Washington State: The multi-year starter ranks 10th all-time in WSU history with 17 sacks over four seasons. Despite this, he went undrafted in 2016.

In early August, the Seahawks brought Palacio in to take reps at fullback before moving him to linebacker (it was a big transition for Palacio, who spent his entire college career with his hand on the ground as a pass-rush specialist). Seattle challenged him to adapt — and thankfully, he has an opportunity to learn from one of the best in the game.

“Bobby Wagner, he’s been a big help and support,” Kache said. “And actually the coaches too: coach Lofa [Tatupu] and coach [Michael] Barrow have been working with me as a linebacker because it’s my first time at the position. They’ve been taking extra time out to help me. Got the vets taking extra time out to make sure I know what I’m doing.”

The Uncertain Life of an Undrafted Free Agent

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It’s a battle familiar to the thousands of young athletes who push every year for a coveted spot on one of 32 NFL teams. Even getting to the Seahawks’ camp was an uphill battle for Palacio. He signed with the Los Angeles Rams in April, and was waived a month later. After that he spent six weeks in the Canadian Football League playing defensive end with the B.C. Lions’ practice squad, before he was waived and went back home to California.

“Like I told him, it’s a business,” said Emile. “Make sure you take that opportunity and run away with it. So when the Seahawks called, that’s somebody he always wanted.”

Father and Son

Though he isn’t living in Southern California now, Kache remains close to his father. They talk every day — and if not every day, then every second day.

“No more than two days. I’ll give him a call, or he’ll give me a call,” Emile said.

“I know when he left he said he wasn’t coming back home.”

Kache has made it this far with Seattle, and through three preseason games he’s recorded nine tackles (three solo). Seattle must trim its roster down to 75 players by Tuesday, and to the final 53-man by September 3.

“My whole focus has been football right now and I’ve just been taking it a day at a time,” says Kache. “Not even worrying about what’s coming up next, cuts and this. I’ve been trying to stack up days with days. And that’s the only thing I can do. I just give my best. So if anything does happen, or it doesn’t pan out the way I want it to, I know I tried my best on the field. And that’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about.”

The elder Palacio is able to find the humor in Kache playing for Carroll, and making his case in front of thousands of fans (“I still can’t believe it right now,” he said. “It’s so surreal”). Both he and Kache are focused on the opportunity his son has now; but like most parents, Emile is proud regardless.

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“He’s already successful in my eyes. Like I told him from day one, we’re playing football if you get an education, then when you leave school you won’t owe any bills. And that’s what happened — so he did everything he was supposed to do.”