Sept. 25, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
Senior running back James Washington is a game-changer. He’s dynamic. He has a skill set that gives opposing coaches nightmares when they’re developing a game-plan.
The versatile ball-carrier lead the Wolfpack with 897 rushing yards in 2011, and he also ranked second on the team in receptions with 42.
“I can do a lot of things when I’m in the game,” Washington said. “I can come out of the backfield and be a receiver and catch balls, or I can take handoffs, or stay back there and help with [pass] protection.
“It’s good to be able to do a lot of things so you’re not limited to just one category. You can be in the game and the defense can’t just key-in on one thing.”
A dynamic player like Washington keeps a defense on its toes because could-be-tacklers are unsure of what he’s going to do on a specific play.
“I’m a Jack-of-All-Trades,” Washington stated. “I feel like I’m good at just about anything they (the coaches) have me do, but there’s always room for improvement. I plan on improving as the season goes.”
Washington isn’t the only one getting touches for the Pack in 2012, though. NC State’s backfield has been operating under a running-back-by-committee system for the first few games, rotating the speedy senior with redshirt-sophomores Tony Creecy and Mustafa Greene. In an open competition with hopes that one of them will emerge as a featured back, first-year Running Backs Coach, Des Kitchings, is watching all of them closely.
“Right now they’re all kind of even, and someone needs to take the reigns and go forward into the remainder of the season,” Kitchings said. “James is a senior, had a lot of snaps in games, so he’s very knowledgeable of the offense. He’s been a good leader, and brings a lot of those intangibles to the group.”
While a three-headed monster in the backfield certainly doesn’t hinder a team’s success, there are often times a player finds it a little difficult to build a ton of momentum while running on and off the field during one offensive possession. Washington has his own way of staying focused on the game.
“When I’m on the sideline, I’m always encouraging my teammates because at the end of the day, we all just want that win,” Washington said. “That’s what matters the most.”
Physically, Washington knows the importance of keeping himself ready because he could be called onto the field at any given time during the rotation.
“Most of the time, I’m on the sideline stretching or keeping my legs loose because I don’t want to go out there after sitting on the sideline and try to run full speed,” Washington said. “That never really works.”
While a position battle is one subject of discussion, another is the fact that Washington has transitioned through a unique phase as far as coaching is concerned. In his fourth season at NC State, Washington has had three different running back coaches, with Kitchings being the most recent.
“It’s been different,” Washington stated. “This year we have Coach Kitchings. He’s different from the other two, and it’s just good to learn different things from different people. I’ll be well-rounded now because I’ve had three different styles of coaching at the running back position.”
Perhaps there are positives to be drawn from having three different position coaches in four years, but does Washington think it benefits him? The answer is yes.
“Yeah, I think it does,” Washington said. “It’s not like you have somebody all four years just holding your hand, sitting you down and basically babying you the whole time. I’ve never had that.
“I’ve always had a balance of tough love with someone who’s going to sit me down, tell me what I’m doing wrong and what I need to do to improve.”
Washington remembers the first time he ever stepped on a football field, but running wasn’t the first thing people thought would be his best asset on the field, especially not his father.
“I was seven [years old],” Washington said. “I remember my first day of practice. When I got there, I met the coaches and my dad gave me the go. We started off with a lap around the field, and it’s 110 yards around the goalpost and back. They called it sprinting. My dad said, ‘He’s not gonna last long,’ and I almost didn’t. That was how my first practice started.”
At just seven years old, he was already beyond his years, playing with and against boys that were a few years older than him. It was then that Washington realized how good he could be.
“Even at the age of seven, I was playing with guys that were nine and ten, and people didn’t think I was as young as I was,” said Washington. “Or that it was my first year because there were people who had been playing for three years, and I was just as good, or even better.”
Playing with older kids is often tough. Many youngsters go through a phase or experience where the older kids view themselves as far superior to the younger ones. Washington didn’t endure that kind of pressure or bullying because by his second season playing youth football, he was already turning heads.
“My first year I played mostly defense and special teams,” Washington said. “My second year, I finally got a chance to play running back. We had a lot of players that played that position, but I got my chance to show people that I was good.”
Competing in an age-group above the expected often draws worries of parents and other on-lookers, but Washington’s success made believers out of many – especially playing in the state of Florida – a known recruiting hotbed for college football coaches.
While he didn’t end up playing at one of the schools in his home-state, the Orlando native will cherish his opportunity at Miami Sept. 29, and against Florida State in Raleigh on Oct. 6.
“It’s big because growing up in Florida, you see Florida State and Miami play on TV, and some day you either want to play for them or play against them,” Washington said. “This will be my first game I actually get to play against Miami. I was a big Miami fan growing up as a kid, so it’s like a dream come true.”
While those are just two of many important games on NC State’s schedule this season, the senior is fully aware of what the team wants to accomplish this year. No matter what challenges have been thrown at Washington, whether it be a change in coaching, splitting carries, or something else, he will do whatever he can to contribute to the team’s effort.
“Everything is more team oriented now,” Washington said. “At the end of the day, we care about winning more than personal stats. Having 100 yards (rushing) every game is cool, but not coming out with a win is not good at all.
“Our whole thing is just to go into a game, make two, three, four big plays that can change the outcome, and help this team win.”