Washington’s play silences doubts — even his own
The junior college star wasn’t sure he could play quarterback at I-A level
Junior Walter Washington has proven himself in a short time at Temple, becoming the first Owls quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards in a game and tying a school record with four rushing touchdowns in a game last year. He also scored two rushing touchdowns in each of the Owls’ two games this year.
Doubts? How could Walter Washington have had any doubts? In the final three games of the 2003 season — against Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and West Virginia — the 6-foot-2, 240-pound quarterback averaged 315 yards of total offense against those nationally ranked opponents. He rushed for four touchdowns against West Virginia. That tied a school record.
The accolades have piled up. Street & Smith’s magazine, one of several publications who have given Washington preseason props, called him the best athlete in the Big East. before Washington came to Temple, he turned down an offer from Big 12 powerhouse Nebraska. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call him one of the most heralded recruits in the history of Temple’s football program.
And yet he still needed to prove a lot to himself. Although his teammates and the fans who have watched him might find it hard to believe, Washington had his doubts. Specifically, he wasn’t completely convinced that he belonged on the field.
“Just coming in from junior college, not having played at the Division I level — I think that was my question,” Washington said. “Can I play on this level or not? Getting an offer from Nebraska, it was wonderful and everything. But with the Big East, you had Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College. You had some of the big-time guys that have been in college football.
“You’ve got teams like that that dominated college football, and you just want to know if you can compete with those guys. It was a big step, turning down Nebraska, but I wanted to play that kind of competition. And to play that kind of competition, I had to come to Temple.”
Now, after ending the 2003 season on an emphatic note and solidifying his job as Temple’s starting quarterback, even Washington has to admit that he can play big-time football in the Big East. His coach certainly doesn’t have any doubts.
“I think he had an excellent season last year,” Owls coach Bobby Wallace said. “Five of his six interceptions came in the Syracuse and West Virginia games. So over the span of the rest of the season, he wasn’t really throwing interceptions. And with all of the knowledge he has now about the position and this offense, I’m expecting him to take a big step forward.”
It’s been a long time — you might even have to go back to the days of Heisman finalist Paul Palmer — since one single player has generated this much excitement on offense on North Broad Street.
“Really, I feel like I haven’t even made a point yet,” Washington said. “People look at me as if to say, ‘Man, look at what he did. He did this in three games.’ I don’t really look at it that way. If they feel like I did something in those three games, then that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What I have to prove this year is something that I’ll really look forward to.”
His teammates will look forward to it, too, simply because Washington has shown the ability to put this team on his back when needed.
In a heartbreaking overtime loss to Virginia Tech at Lincoln Financial Field last season, Washington became the first Temple quarterback to rush for 100 yards when he gained 151 yards on 26 carries. He led the Owls in rushing, scoring and total offense last season.
But the strong-armed Washington, like many of his predecessors at the position, would like to shed the label that he is strictly a running quarterback. He completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,265 yards, and threw eight touchdowns against six interceptions. Now, with a full season ahead, Washington is eager to show what he’s learned as a passer.
“Being able to distinguish where to put the ball and how much velocity to put on the ball, that’s been the main thing,” he said. “I think it took care of itself once I started to learn my wide receivers’ routes, how they play, and I was able to learn that more in those last three games of the season.”
Washington couldn’t be happier about where he is now, but he has two regrets. One is that he wished he had begun playing quarterback at an earlier age. Last year was only his second full season at quarterback. The other was at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, where he was a junior college All-American.
More important, though, Washington wishes that his grandmother, Georgia Washington, were still alive to see him fulfill his dream. As a tribute to her, Washington has “Ms. Georgia” tattooed on his left arm. She passed away in 2001 while Washington was still at Dodge City. She raised him, taught him right from wrong.
“At that point in time, when she passed away, I didn’t know if I was ever going to want to play football again,” Washington admitted.
Chances are that Georgia Washington would be very proud of her grandson. Not only because of what he’s accomplished on the football field, but because he believes in himself now and didn’t give up.
“She was the reason — the main reason — why I played,” Washington said. “She was everything. But I knew the reason I went on, and the encouragement I had to go on, came from her, because I knew she wouldn’t have wanted me to quit.”
-By John Di Carlo
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