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Tiger Kickoff: Washington becoming an attention getter

The running back's break-out performance against Illinois exposed him to first real media crush. Washington and his teammates say he is ready for the expectations that come with replacing Tony Temple.
Friday, September 5, 2008 | 11:56 a.m. CDT; updated 7:25 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Illinois defensive back Dere Hicks tries to tackle Missouri's Derrick Washington as he scores a touchdown in the first half of Missouri's 52-42 victory against the Illini.

COLUMBIA - Defensive lines of Illinois' caliber, among the best, don't scare Derrick Washington.

Replacing former Missouri tailback in Tony Temple, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, doesn't scare Washington either. No, to get Derrick Washington to flinch, it takes an entirely different set of tools.

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For starters, try a spotlight and a camera.

"I came out the locker room after the game Saturday, and it was pretty shocking," Washington said of the army of cameras he was confronted with. "I got walked to the bus, and I was still getting interviewed as I was walking. I think I could get used to that, I just don't want to get rushed like that again."

For the first time in his career, the sophomore is facing a new kind of blitz and one his running backs coach Brian Jones never prepared him for - a media blitz. The media crush he faced after his performance against Illinois was no coincidence.

Saturday night in St. Louis, Washington made his debut in a spotlight much more intense than the ones he faced afterwards.

As a first-time starter in a game televised nationally on ESPN, Washingon pounded the Illinois defense for a Big 12-leading 130 yards on 19 carries. The performance was punctuated by a 40-yard scamper in the second quarter that had Washington doing his best impression of a bowling ball, bouncing off and shedding defenders for his second touchdown of the night, equaling his total as a freshman.

Washington might have caught some offguard, but those close to him knew he was capable.

"Playing in November, playing in the Kansas game in that environment, in the championship game, in the bowl game, all those things lend itself to maturity," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

"I saw the guy in spring football, I've seen him in two-a-days, and I had no doubt that he was going to play at the level he did."

Pinkel said Washington's 36 carries and 10 catches in 2007 are evidence of why his freshman campaign set him up for the success he is seeing in 2008.

"Last year I played, I just didn't play as much as I wanted to," Washington said. "Now, I'm just so much more comfortable with everything."

Especially his teammates. Asked about Washington's relationship with his linemen, senior left guard Ryan Madison mentioned that Washington often tagged along with the linemen for dinner after film study, the only tailback to do so. Asked where these rendezvous took place, Madison's lips suddenly became tight.

Moments later, however, it took all of a minute-and-a-half and three questions for Washington's loose lips to sink Madison's ship, which apparently docks at a local steak and pizza chain fairly often.

Despite the faux pas, it's clear the five guys who pave his way are close to Washington's heart.

"If I get over a thousand yards this year, most definitely," Washington said of his plans to treat the offensive line to a meal in the future. "I don't know where yet, but we'll see. Probably a buffet, because you know the hogs like to eat."

But it's not likely Washington will follow NFL tradition for quarterbacks and running backs, who often pony up for Rolexes or Cadillacs as gifts to the trailblazers up front.

"I ain't got that kind of money yet," Washington said, with a grin wider than the holes he sliced through against the Illini. He doesn't want to get ahead of himself. Getting those thousand yards will require focus.

"That's my goal, and that's the O-line's goal, to have a 100-yard rusher, and I want to get 100 yards every game," Washington said. "If I can do that, I'll be fine."

Perhaps even more than fine. A quick glance at the record books and a few button pushes on the calculator show that doing so for the next three seasons would make Washington Missouri's all-time leading rusher, just surpassing Brad Smith, who finished his career with 4,289 yards.

Before that happens, the coaching staff knows Washington hasn't fully tapped into what might be his best attribute: his potential.

"He needs to become a better blocker," Jones said. "He's not arrived. He's not a total player."

Missouri was one of just two teams last season, along with Tulsa, to pass for more than 4,000 yards (4,397) and rush for more than 2,000 (2,467). It's that balance that Washington said lets him sleep well at night, at ease with the notion that Big 12 teams could turn their defensive spotlights on him, amass a collection of gametape and limit his effectiveness.

"The (offensive) line is great. Defenses have to go against our line to stop me, but it's not just going to be me, it's going to be the whole offense," Washington said. "We've still got Chase (Daniel), we've still got other athletes. We pass first, but I wouldn't mind changing that to run first."

 


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