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College Football: Catawba Notebook: Washington was special Saturday night

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Catawba Special Teams Player of the Week Mario Washington is the proud owner of eight ó count íem eight ó pythons, and he helped squeeze UNC Pembroke 42-33 on Saturday by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown.
While Washington busted loose against the Braves, he can recall just one breakout by his exotic menagerie.
ěThe snakes got out just once, and it wasnít my fault,î Washington said. ěMy brother unlocked the cage when I was in Las Vegas. My dad called me.î
That family conversation had to be entertaining, to say the least.
Offensive Player of the Week Josh Wright, who rushed for 180 yards, said he prefers more conventional pets such as dogs and fish, but he respects the play of ěSnakeî Washington, whose role is expanding.
A major contributor on special teams for years, Washington has stepped forward with the Indians shorthanded at wide receiver. Heís helped out with seven catches for 84 yards and made a TD grab in the 23-21 win at Tusculum.
ěIíve waited for an opportunity on offense, and now Iím trying to make the best of it,î said the 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior from Ragsdale. ěItís been exciting. When I scored that touchdown at Tusculum, I was so happy there were little tears of joy.î
Washington had one reception for 13 yards against UNC Pembroke and made a special-teams tackle. But his biggest moment came on the blocked punt. Athletic true freshman Tyler Hamilton blocked it. Washington, slithering low to the ground like one of his pets, scooped and scored.
ěThey tell us to always visualize positive things, and I visualized me blocking that punt, but a guy blocked me,î Washington said. ěBut then I saw the ball.î
While heís undersized, Washington can handle a wide range of assignments ó everything from gunner on punt coverage to physical blocking in the running game.
ěHeís very versatile,î Hester said. ěThere are times we put him in motion and ask him to block guys who weigh 250. Covering kicks, catching passes, whatever we ask him to do, he steps up to the challenge. Guys like him are the backbone of a team.î
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WRIGHT WROMPS: Wright, a senior from Raeford, had a career day Saturday and now ranks fourth in the SAC in rushing with 359 yards.
ěThe only game really close to it was at Mars Hill last year when I had a lot of rushing yards (152) and three TDs,î Wright said.
Wrightís big day, which included a 64-yard scoring dash, was a combination of his own tackle-breaking and steadily improving line play.
ěOur offensive line got great push and they are holding their blocks longer,î Wright said. ěThey gave me something to work with.î
Wright also credited his fine performance to a pregame speech administered by Catawbaís interim president Dr. Joseph Oxendine, a Pembroke native.
ěI went out there playing for him,î Wright said.
Wright is in his third season at Catawba after transferring from Western Carolina. Heís carried 303 times as an Indian, gaining 1,290 yards and scoring 11 TDs.
ěWe were able to get him one-on-one with a safety a lot of times, and Josh ran extremely hard,î Hester said. ěHeís a great player. Heís also a great guy who handles a lot of our devotions.î
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LINE KINGS: Hester is optimistic the offensive line will continue to get better under the leadership of assistant Brian Hinson and veteran Daylon McAlexander, who played on Saturday despite an ankle injury.
ěTheyíre starting to work as a unit and theyíve made a lot of strides,î Hester said.
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CHIPPING AWAY: Hester has 65 career wins at Catawba, two more than David Bennett. The only coach with more victories is legend Gordon Kirkland (107).
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BARKING AND BITING: Freshman C.J. Barksdale earned his second Defensive Player of the Week award.
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INJURIES: Punter T.J. Morrison hurt a foot in a shower-door incident. He was waiting patiently for a towel when a teammate pushed the door open. Morrison suffered a ripped toenail and his foot is badly swollen.
Placekicker Thomas Trexler did the bulk of the punting Saturday, although Morrison did punt once. Hester is optimistic Morrison will be available to punt Saturday at Carson-Newman.
The news is grim concerning reliable cornerback Scottie Floyd. He was lost for the season Saturday with a broken kneecap.
ěHe had surgery Sunday and a full recovery is expected,î Hester said. ěItís a huge loss for us, but injuries are part of the deal. Fortunately, weíve got some young DBs playing well.î
Star safety/return man L.J. McCray (ribs) is also likely out for the season. Catawba hopes to obtain a medical redshirt for him.
McCrayís absence on kickoff returns opens the door for two very fast true freshmen ó South Rowanís Mark McDaniel and West Rowanís Trey Mashore ó to contribute immediately.

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