By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Elijah Washington loves the weight room.
He enjoys going in and challenging himself day after day, pushing himself to hit a new mark. It's that mentality that's helped him become the strongest player on Handley's team and molded him into one of the team's leaders.
"When he's in the weight room he takes it to another level," Handley senior Leonard Grant said. "He gets everybody pumped. If you're on your last rep, he's there to cheer you on."
Washington, who can squat 525 pounds, and Grant have a friendly rivalry in the weight room. Handley coach Tony Rayburn lists the top marks in several weightlifting categories, and Washington and Grant are usually at the top of them.
They take turns battling for bragging rights.
"During school we didn't have the same weightlifting class, but if he did some number I would try to beat it," Grant said. "If I beat it, I go back and tell him. Then we keep on fighting to get No. 1. It makes us stronger because we keep fighting for No. 1."
"Leonard and Derek Dowrey are right behind me, so I try to be the strongest guy," Washington said. "I try to keep pushing them so they can be bigger and stronger."
Washington, Grant and fellow senior Jeremiah Wilson have all known each other for about 10 years and played together in rec leagues or backyard games.
"He was always bigger than everybody," Grant said. "When we was little he was like twice the size of me then. Everybody was scared to get tackled by him. I wasn't scared -- I always picked him to be on my team."
Once the trio came to Handley, they each made the varsity team as freshmen. Washington started at both offensive and defensive line as a freshman and said it was a big adjustment for him.
Last year, Washington emerged as one of Handley's top defensive players. He finished with 51 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
"It feels great to get a sack because you know you did your job and you did everything right," Washington said. "But you just got to go back to the huddle, because it's just one play. After that play's over you gotta go back and try to make another tackle."
The Judges won the Northwestern District title last year, and finished with a 10-2 record, losing in the Region II, Division 3 final. With a lot of talented players back there have been a lot of lofty expectations placed on the team this year.
"The team is great. It's very big and physical," Washington said. "Our team goal is just to keep working hard and try to make it back to the playoffs and hopefully make it to states."
Washington has had some of his best performances throughout his career in big games, but Handley coach Tony Rayburn said he wants Washington to be more consistent.
"This year instead of just being hyped up for the big games, I want to be hyped for all the games," Washington said. "I just want to work hard every game. You never know who's going to see you."
There's sure to be scouts watching Washington this season. He attended several camps in the offseason and is looking at both FBS and FCS schools, including Louisville, Boston College, William and Mary and JMU.
Washington understands that at the next level he will have to keep pushing himself, but that's something that all his work in the weight room has showed him.
"I know I have to keep working hard," Washington said. "I know even if it hurts I have to just keep pushing through it. If you work hard it will pay off for you in the long run."