New Missouri running back steps into important role

Friday, August 29, 2008 | 4:04 a.m. CDT; updated 11:39 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 29, 2008
A sophomore, Derrick Washington replaces Tony Temple as Missouri’s No. 1 running back when No. 6-ranked Missouri plays No. 20 Illinois at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in St. Louis.

COLUMBIA - Derrick Washington wants everyone to know that he is different than Tony Temple.

Washington's new tattoo inked into his biceps shows that he is different; it reads "Rare Breed."

"I just feel like there's not that many people out there who can do what I do," Derrick Washington said. "It's hard to be a great athlete and a good student, but I can do it."

A sophomore, Washington replaces Temple as Missouri's No. 1 running back when No. 6-ranked Missouri plays No. 20 Illinois at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in St. Louis. Last season, Temple became the first Missouri running back to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Not only does Washington replace one of the best running backs, but he also takes over the running back spotlight on a team that expects to compete for a national title.

"Last season, we were just hanging with the big dogs," Derrick Washington said. "Now, we're one of the big dogs and everyone's coming after us."

Replacing Temple is nothing new for Washington. Before he was the star running back and prized recruit in the state, it was Temple. Before Washington won three state titles running the ball for Raymore-Peculiar High School, it was Temple winning two state titles with Rockhurst.

Growing up in Kansas City, Washington doesn't remember Mizzou football. The thought of Missouri beating Kansas to gain the No. 1 ranking for a week seemed impossible to Washington as a child.

"The only thing I remember is losing the kick game to Nebraska," Washington said.

What Washington does remember is looking at his father's national finalist ring that his father received when Louisiana Tech played in the I-AA title game.

Washington said he wanted a ring just like that one.

"He's way ahead of me now," said Donald Washington, referring to Derrick's three state title rings and his Cotton Bowl championship ring.

That was all before Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Martin Rucker and coach Gary Pinkel made Missouri a household name to top recruits in Kansas City.

Derrick Washington says he wonders sometimes where he would be if his parents didn't move the family before his freshman year in high school.

Before the Washington family moved, he was in line to attend Ruskin High School in the Hickman Mills school district, hardly a football powerhouse. Ruskin struggles to field a team every season.

"We just wanted to move them to a better environment," Donald Washington said.

For Derrick Washington, the adjustment from an inner-city school to a rural school wasn't easy.

"I went from an 95 percent African-American school to five percent African-American school," Derrick Washington said. "It was difficult at first..."

Derrick Washington,also, says he wonders what it would be like growing up without his father. He sympathizes with teammates who don't have a father in their lives.

"I really don't understand where they coming from. Two parents raised me," Derrick Washington said. "They really instilled in me that ‘you really need to do that' and ‘you need to do this.' It's really unfortunate that a lot of people don't get to grow up with both parents."

During a fall practice, Donald Washington stood there with his wife Sarah and their three younger children watching, engaging, encouraging Derrick every step of the way.

"He helped me a lot because he was my coach all through little league," Derrick Washington said. "He's always been pushing me from day one. He's pushed me the hardest."

After moving to Raymore, Derrick Washington found himself playing for a high school program that regularly competes for the state title and produced teammate Chase Coffman. By the third game in his sophomore season, Derrick Washington took over the starting running back position. From there, nothing surprised his father.

"In each year, he's done something special," Donald Washington said. "From when he played in the South Suburban youth league to high school playing on Friday night with everyone watching and going to St. Louis three times."

That sophomore season, Derrick Washington found himself walking into the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to play his first high school championship game. The same Edwards Jones Dome that Temple won two championship games.

"I felt like I had made it playing in an NFL stadium," Derrick Washington said. "The first thing I noticed was how bright the lights are."

Derrick Washington made himself feel at home that first game in the dome, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 93-yards leading Raymore-Peculiar to a 37-18 win. The next two seasons, Washington returned to the dome, scoring four touchdowns to lead the Panthers two their second consecutive state title as a junior and, for his Dome finale, scoring five touchdowns to lead Raymore-Peculiar to its third straight state championship.

"I just love playing in the dome," Derrick Washington said. "There's something about it that gets me going."

It's fitting that Derrick Washington's first start, as a collegiate running back will come in the Dome against Illinois.

"We were just talking about that last week," Donald Washington said. "It's going to be like going home."

When Derrick Washington takes the field at Missouri practices, his job doesn't just involve receiving handoffs from quarterback Chase Daniel. Over half the time, Derrick Washington is set up to run a route as a wide receiver. He has the quick feet and agility of a running back as well as the sure hands of a wide receiver able to catch anything.

"Last year, with Derrick we did some things that we didn't do with Tony," Pinkel said referring to how the Tigers used Derrick as a receiver out of the backfield. "Derrick can also run the ball as well as anyone we got out there. If you can highlight a guy a certain way because he has different skills, you do so."

Several times in one-on-one pass defending drills, Derrick Washington has blown past a linebacker, caught the ball on the run and strutted into the end-zone like this catching thing is way too easy.

Pinkel isn't the only one who notices that with those hands and the spread offense, Derrick Washington has the ability to be a hybrid player. Every coach from running backs coach Brian Jones to offensive coordinator Dave Christensen grin like they just found a $100 bill in their pocket every time someone mentions Derrick Washington's hands.

"We don't necessarily have to take him out if we want a wide receiver in there because he has such great hands," Christensen said. "There's a number of different things you can do with him and we're going to find ways to do things with him much like we've done with Jeremy (Maclin)."

Every time the Missouri football team stretches, Derrick Washington sits at the front of the running backs line with a huge smile on his face.

"Last year it was a big change. Adjusting to the speed was the hardest thing," Derrick Washington said. "I showed that I can play last year. I'm going to work harder and show the coaches that I can do a little bit more."


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