By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WINCHESTER -- Last season was a heart-breaking one for Justin Washington.
The Handley standout wide receiver suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee in the fifth game of the season and had to miss the rest of the year. The toughest part was having to watch his teammates play without him.
"It was tough even in [practice] when they was doing football and stuff, like I cried," Washington said. "I don't cry for nothing, but football yeah I'll cry for that. It's just my first love."
That love for football is part of what drove him during his rehab.
Washington did everything that needed to be done according Handley trainer Bart Stewart.
Washington said the hard part was the first few days.
"First couple days it felt like they were breaking my knee," Washington said. "I kept doing [rehab] and my leg started getting stronger and stronger and I can do more stuff."
Stewart said that Washington's knee is fine now and you can't even tell that he ever had an ACL tear.
That's great news for Washington and Handley.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder made an impact at Handley from his first game as a freshman.
"They threw me in my second play and I forgot the route at first and they went the other way," Washington said of his first game as a freshman. "But then the next time I got the ball I had like a 70-yard catch."
It was Washington's first game ever as a wide receiver, as he had always played at running back.
Washington said he's grown to love wide receiver and the results have certainly shown. As a sophomore, Washington had 45 catches for 630 yards and seven touchdowns.
His height and speed have always given him an edge on the playing field.
"I've always been taller than everybody, so I just use it to my advantage and just jump over people," Washington said. "I can jump pretty high."
Before his injury last year, Washington had 28 receptions for 594 yards and eight touchdowns.
Handley coach Tony Rayburn said Washington has improved in many ways throughout the last few years.
"He's always had some athleticism. He's gotten a lot bigger and faster," Rayburn said. "His worth ethic has improved. His grades have improved. He's taken steps in a lot of areas."
He also plays some in the secondary for the Judges. Last year he had 25 tackles and two interceptions for the Judges.
Rayburn said many colleges are waiting to see how Washington bounces back from his injury, but he has already been offered a scholarship by Delaware.
Washington said he visited there this summer.
"They got a nice campus," Washington said. "Everything's great. The coaches are down to earth. I just feel welcome there. I feel like they went me to play with them."
Right now Washington is focused on having a strong senior season and helping the Judges win games.
Handley lost in the first round of the playoffs, and Washington said the team wants to do much better this year.
"Hopefully, we'll make it far," Washington said. "We still got younger players, but we're executing more this year and we got more speed."
Washington said he's trying to be even more of a leader this year. The Judges return a strong nucleus and could have a lot of success this season.
Even though the injury was a tough thing to go through, Washington said he was thankful it happened in his junior year and he has one last year at Handley.
"This is the last year. This has went by fast, this whole high school experience, but it was great," Washington said. "I met a lot of new people and a lot of great people.
"Knowing I'm a senior, it makes you want to work harder than ever before."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd