Washington ready to step up as Aztecs’ next featured back
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Juwan Washington is ready for his turn to be San Diego State’s featured running back.
If he’s as successful as D.J. Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny before him, SDSU will become the first school to have back-to-back-to-back 2,000-yard rushers.
Granted, those are some mighty big cleats to fill.
Washington replaces Penny, who led the nation with a school-record 2,248 yards as a senior before being drafted in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks. Penny had replaced Pumphrey, who led the nation with 2,133 yards as a senior in 2016 before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Pumphrey left SDSU as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 6,405 yards.
Washington, a junior, said he’s not feeling any pressure after learning behind those two stars.
“It’s one of those things that if it comes, it comes,” he said. “It’s not something I can just try to force on every game. The biggest thing is to win games and that’s what we want to do, so if that comes with it, that’d be good.”
As Penny was running toward stardom last year, the Aztecs still found room in their offense for Washington to carry 127 times for 759 yards (6-yard average) and seven touchdowns. In two seasons he has 1,200 yards on 182 carriers (6.6-yard average) and 13 touchdowns.
“That’s one thing we pride ourselves on,” Washington said, crediting Jeff Horton, the associate head coach/offensive coordinator/running backs coach. “Our offense is like a 1A- and 1B-type deal we have with our running backs, so we’re all getting in there and getting some experience and I got to get in there a little bit last year.”
Washington will debut as the starter when the Aztecs (10-3 in 2017) open on the road Friday night against Bryce Love and the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal. The Aztecs beat Stanford 20-17 in San Diego last season, with Love rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and Penny going for 175 yards and one score.
“He’s put in his time, much like the other guys did, Pumphrey when he was younger, Rashaad when he was younger,” Horton said. “He never complained. Whenever we needed him he stepped up and filled in admirably at running back and ran back kickoffs for us. You won’t find a harder-working guy.”
Washington, from Kennedale, Texas, is 5-foor-7 and 190 pounds, putting him right in between Pumphrey and Penny.
“He’s not as big as Rashaad so he probably doesn’t break as many tackles,” coach Rocky Long said. “He’s just as fast. He’s not quite as quick or he doesn’t cut quite as quickly as Pumphrey did but he can make you miss in the hole. But he’s just as fast. All three of them are about the same speed.”
The Aztecs believe Washington has 2,000 yards in him if the offensive line — which is more experienced this year — does its job.
“That’s a special deal,” Horton said. “Just to have a 2,000-yard rusher ever is special, and to have back-to-back … I don’t put that kind of pressure on them. I just say, ‘Let’s be as good as we can be.’ You never know how the season is going to play out.
“Certainly there are some yards out there to get and I know he’ll go and get as many as he can.”
Horton calls Washington “a dynamic weapon” who can catch the ball and star in the return game. Washington has one career receiving touchdown and already has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Penny had seven career kickoff returns and one punt return for TDs.
“He’s a really valuable guy,” Horton said. “You always see him upbeat. He’s always positive, he’s always smiling, laughing. I love having him around. He just oozes energy and hopefully the other guys pick up on it.”
San Diego State, which featured Marshall Faulk and George Jones in the 1990s and Ronnie Hillman earlier this decade, has returned to being a Running Back U.
“I think that they like the offense we run,” said Long, a defensive-minded, old-school coach. “A lot of people are in the spread now and the running back doesn’t get to be seven yards deep with a fullback in front of him where we take the ball to him and he starts through the hole we try to block for and then he gets to go where he sees a seam. Running backs want to be that guy. They don’t necessarily want to be a zone read guy and a guy out of the backfield catching the ball. They want to carry the ball.”
That’s why Washington came to SDSU, where, he said, running backs “all have equal opportunity. When you come in, you get those chances to make plays. … If you do good then you get your chance to go out there, and that’s the best thing about it.”