Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown's Damien Washington
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — Practice is three minutes away from starting, and coaches are staring anxiously at watches when Damien Washington finally arrives in the Wonders’ green locker room.
It’s not like he’s been sitting at home munching Pop Tarts. He’s been busy rounding up teammates without rides and getting them where they needed to be.
He’s a senior and a captain, so he’s the guy who gets called when a car won’t start, when a tire is flat — or when there’s no car at all.
It’s a responsibility the North Carolina commitment takes seriously.
Another of Washington’s responsibilities is scoring touchdowns. That job is easier — at least for him. Sixteen seconds after the 2011 season began in Kannapolis on Friday, there already was a notation in the record book — Washington, 87-yard kickoff return, touchdown.
“Well, that kind of took the pressure off,” said smiling head coach Mike Newsome. “It was a pretty amazing runback. Shelby had him hemmed in, but a great block got him loose.”
With Washington apparently trapped on the left sideline, his backfield running mate Kalif Phillips made that springing block. After that, Washington was sprinting, angling toward the open green space on the right side.
“Phillips saved me,” Washington said. “Almost all their guys had collapsed on the sideline, and I was able to side-step out of there.”
When Washington looked up, Phillips was next to him. His wingman was looking for another Golden Lion to tame.
“On the film, it looks like Kalif is running faster than me,” said Washington, shaking his head.
Then there was just one Lion left. Phillips erased him.
“Two blocks on one play,” Washington said. “Shows how good a player Kalif is.”
Touchdown. Pandemonium at Memorial Stadium. Quite a way for Newsome to open his tenure at the helm of the Wonders.
Brown led Shelby 30-0 — a stunning situation against a loaded team that was a 2AA semifinalist in 2010 — before winning 43-24. When it was over, Washington had three TDs and 108 rushing yards.
“It shouldn’t have got close,” he said. “We got a little bit lazy, but then we got back on track.”
Speed kills is a familiar saying, but that’s only half the mantra on the walls at A.L. Brown. “Speed kills — and strength punishes,” say the Wonders, and Washington is the latest stud to emerge from assistant Todd Hagler’s weight room.
Clark Kents walk in there. Supermen fly out.
Washington was 5-foot-10, 160 pounds not that long ago. Now he’s 6-1, 180, with more lean muscle mass sure to be added in the years to come.
“What we try to do with our weight program is make ’em bigger while maintaining their speed,” Hagler said. “But Damien’s not only gotten bigger, he’s gotten faster, and he was fast to start with. He’s made real strides, 250 bench-press, 375 squat — and that may be conservative. I don’t won’t to tell you high.”
Newsome’s coaching style is forceful. He’s informed his most talented player, his leader, that he needs to be physical as well as fast.
“Damien used his speed all the time last year,” Hagler analyzed. “What Coach Newsome has stressed is that he needs to run with power, needs to run through some tackles. We saw some of that Friday. I think the light may have come on for him.”
Washington flashed brilliance as a junior — 10 yards per carry, nine TDs — but, if he stays healthy, he’ll have a monster senior season.
“Coach Newsome has brought a lot of intensity to this program,” Washington said. “And I want to show that all the work I’ve done in the weight room is paying off. If the coaches want me to run with more attitude, even a little bit of meanness, then I’m going to do that.”
It’s hard to imagine Washington being mean, but he’s definitely a game-changer.
“Damien has more than just straight-out speed,” Newsome said. “He’s versatile. He’s a total combination of football skills.”