Running wild: Sherando’s Washington a ‘nightmare’ for opposing defenses
STEPHENS CITY – Real-life athletes are often compared to their virtual counterparts when they perform a physical feat that mirrors something out of a video game, or when they post remarkable statistical numbers. Sherando High School offensive lineman Isaiah Allen makes that comparison almost daily when watching electrifying junior running back T.J. Washington go to work on the football field.
“It definitely feels like I’m playing Madden,” Allen said on Monday evening, referencing the popular NFL video game. “I feel like I’m just playing with T.J. and I’m just controlling him with the analog sticks. I’ve told him a lot in practice, I’m like, ‘T, I’m gonna hit the button and I need you to do a spin move.’ We joke around about that a lot.”
Washington’s numbers this season are no joke, though the mere mention of them brings a big smile to the face of head coach Bill Hall.
Through Sherando’s 12 games played this fall – which include a pair of Region 4C playoff victories that send the Warriors into tonight’s 7 p.m. matchup at Liberty (Bealeton) in the regional championship on a six-game winning streak – the 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior has rushed 202 times for 1,433 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has 39 receptions for 576 yards and 10 touchdowns, has thrown two TDs and has four total kick/punt return touchdowns.
Washington is averaging 220.8 all-purpose yards per game, and he has accounted for 33 of the Warriors’ 75 total touchdowns and nearly half of the team’s offensive/special teams TDs (47.8 percent) this season. His two passing touchdowns aside, Washington’s average distance per score is 30 yards. Twenty-two of his touchdowns have gone for 10-plus yards, and 15 of them have gone 30 yards or more.
“T.J.’s one of the most electrifying football players I’ve ever seen,” Warriors junior quarterback Hunter Entsminger said. “You give him the ball, he’s gonna make a special play. It doesn’t matter if he’s catching it, running, I mean even throwing it, he can do anything he wants. He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve seen.
“He can really do it all, so he’s really just a nightmare for defenses.”
The Warriors got their first look at Washington’s big-play ability last season when, as a sophomore, he rushed for 1,243 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns in his varsity debut en route to second team All-Conference 21 West honors.
“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to hit the holes right, where the holes will be at, what to cut off of,” said Washington, who was voted a first team All-Northwestern District running back and punt returner earlier this month. “This year I would just say I knew exactly where it was at, where the hitting point was.”
And he’s a year stronger.
Asked where his explosiveness has come from this season, Washington replied, “In there,” and pointed down the hallway outside the locker room to Sherando’s weight room.
Washington didn’t become what Hall refers to as “weight room warrior” until last school year, when the head coach got Washington enrolled in Hall’s strength-training class. Doing so allowed Washington, a three-sport athlete who also competes on Sherando’s boys basketball and track and field teams, access to the weight room during school hours to lessen the burden of his schedule.
“When he looks at a weight, his muscles pop out. He’s naturally gifted genetically like that,” Hall said, adding that Washington’s competitiveness drives him in the weight room as well as on the football field.
“I think he’s kind of embraced it. I think he also sees how it’s paying off for him.”
The video game-like production for Washington on the field this season was instantaneous. In the season opener against James Wood, he erupted for six touchdowns – a 97-yard kickoff return to open the game followed by five rushing scores – in a blowout win. All six of those scores came in the first half.
“I wasn’t looking for that kind of start,” Washington said, “but it happened and I just picked up where it came from.”
Washington has scored at least one touchdown in every game this season and has at least two TDs in each of his last five games. He’s scored seven times in two playoff games.
In a 27-10 Region 4C quarterfinal win over Dominion on Nov. 10, Washington rushed 27 times for 172 yards, caught seven passes for 73 yards and scored three total touchdowns – including a 61-yard scoring run and a 40-yard reception.
Against Millbrook in the regional semifinals last week, Washington carried 18 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns – one a 44-yard scamper – and had six receptions for 72 yards and a 30-yard TD catch in the 35-32 win.
“You can tell, playoff time came and T.J. was just locked in,” Entsminger said. “He wasn’t focused on anything else. It was just, ‘I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna show out.’ That’s all his mind was.”
Washington and the Warriors get the chance to do it all again on Friday in the regional championship game against Liberty, which beat Sherando 31-28 in Bealeton on Sept. 22. In that regular season meeting Washington was thrust into a role as the Warriors’ Wildcat quarterback after Entsminger went down with an injury in the third quarter. Washington ended the game with four touchdowns – an 11-yard run, a 22-yard reception and TD passes of 30 and 80 yards.
“You want a kid that wants the ball in those types of situations,” Hall said. “When Hunter went out in that game, (Washington) and (fullback Joseph Doleman) were like, ‘All right, here we go,’ and we just started drawing it up. It’s not like he practiced the things that we were doing in that game and the next thing you know they’re ripping off touchdown runs and throws.”
Hall said on Monday that Washington is the type of player who wants the football more as the stakes grow higher. As Sherando pushes deeper into the playoffs, Washington is taking on more and more responsibility.
Washington started at defensive back for the first time this season last week, and he made a game-clinching interception in the end zone with less than a minute to play to preserve Sherando’s win.
Hall said Washington is “probably just as good a (defensive back) prospect” for college as he is an offensive weapon.
“We selfishly hold him off on defense just to keep him fresh enough so he can be dynamic on offense,” Hall said. “As he’s gotten in better shape, and it’s not like he was in bad shape, but just the amount of game action, we’ve been able to get him more reps on defense and now in big games you want your best guys out there. That’s important that he’s out there for us.”