Even in a signing class long-noted for its commitment to prospects the emphatically P.C. among us might call "height-challenged," ex-Ole Miss commit and former Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. athlete Demond Washington stands out. Or doesn't, if we're talking literally: he's just 5-9, 185, finishing in a dead heat with Travante Stallworth for the title of Most Diminutive amongst the members of Auburn's 2009 signing class.
Diminutive or not, though, as with Stallworth there's some real potential here, and it can't hurt that there's a chance he's going to enroll over the summer.
Basics: Info, as always, courtesy Auburn Signing Day info sheet:
Demond WashingtonHmmmm, seven combined defensive and punt-returning touchdowns in that sophomore season, eh? Intriguing. Of course, his ability to take a pick back in the opposite direction doesn't matter too much any more: Auburn's coaches have indicated he's going to start his Auburn career at running back. There's a possibility Washington will redshirt while Auburn's coaches figure out what to do with him, since he's got three years to play two.
ATH, 5-9, 185
Tallassee, AL (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Tallassee HS)
Junior College Coach: Steve Campbell
High School Coach: Phil Lindsey
JUNIOR COLLEGE: In 12 games during his freshman season at Gulf Coast, rushed for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 172 carries, and returned two punts for touchdowns ... Helped lead team to the National Championship ... Played defense as a sophomore and had 55 tackles and three interceptions, returning them all for touchdowns, while also returning four punts for scores ... Ranked as the third-best junior college prospect by SuperPrep ...
HIGH SCHOOL: Had an injury-plagued senior season, but as a junior, scored 27 touchdowns ... Named to the 2005 Class 4A all-state first team as an athlete by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
Washington was teammates at MGCCC with Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman, popular linebacking savior.
Recruitnik hoo-ha: Washington is unique amongst Auburn's 2009 JUCO commits in that he wasn't evaluated by the services coming out of high school; no stars, no grades, no Rivals no Scout no nothin'. I'm assuming this is a byproduct of his having been injured that senior year in Tallassee, because otherwise, huh?
Because ESPN doesn't evaluate JUCOs, we're left with just Scout and Rivals. And as with fellow Auburn JUCOs The Toro and Nick Fairley, it's a shame, because we could have used some kind of tiebreaker to arbitrate between the two major services' severe difference of opinion.
Rivals, as with The Toro and Fairley, is not impressed: to them Washington is a 5.6-graded, middle-of-the-road three-star. He ranks No. 91 on their JUCO top 100, two spots behind Coffeyville (KS) C.C. prospect Kenny Armstrong, who according to Rivals committed to noted football power "Division II."
Scout, however, is just a wee bit more optimistic: Washington gets five stars from them and receives the following rave review:
A stalwart in the defensive backfield and on special teams, Washington is the total package at the corner position. He's physical in run support, makes quick reads in coverage, closes well, and makes good plays on the ball in the air. Difficult to find an "area for improvement", but all corners can work on reading the play and jamming the receiver at the line. Should be an immediate contributor on the next level.As opposed to that "No. 91 business," Scout made Washginton one of seven five-star JUCOs in the entire 2009 class. (A caveat: Scout has Washington clearly listed as a corner. Would they feel less confident about him in the offensive backfield? Who knows?)
So one service says "immediate, sure-fire contributor." The other says "50/50ish shot he amounts to anything." Take your pick who you think is more accurate.
Links of potential interest: Highlights ahoy! Eight minutes' worth, in fact!
From where I sit the most impressive plays in the above are the punt returns; the tightrope in the interrupted return at 4:33 is well-done. More of the same here (if you haven't gotten used to turning down your volume for random YouTube highlight clips, uh, yeah, the audio's NSFW):
The honors came fast and furious for Washington at MGCCC: he was named MACJC Defensive Player of the Week after nabbing two pick-sixes in a game, he was All-Region, he was a preseason and post-season NJCAA All-American. His teams fared pretty gosh-darned well while he was on the field, too:
The 2008 Bulldog sophomore class finished at Gulf Coast with a 22-2 overall record, a 2007 NJCAA Co-national title, two MACJC state championships, and two MACJC South Division crowns.Sure, guys like The Toro and Terrance Cody probably also had something to do with those results, but Washington played his part, too. Besides, he was the one who got quoted after that Mississippi Bowl win:
“It was nice to go out this way,” said Bulldog defensive back Demond Washington. “It feels great. We had some tough times this season, but we came together as a team and ended up winning this bowl championship.”Hey, when you've been honored as part of an official congratulatory resolution by the Mississippi state Senate, you've hit the big time.
Washington has legit track speed: he ran a third-place 10.98 in the 100-meter dash at the 2007 Alabama state meet. Not too shabby.
Though of course we didn't see any of the behind-the-scenes stuff, Auburn didn't seem to have too much trouble luring Washington away from his Ole Miss commitment; Washington seemed to appear Auburn's recruiting radar, decommit from the Rebels, and commit to Auburn in a matter of days. In a quote that swiftly made the rounds in the Auburn newsphere, though, Washington said Tallassee's proximity to Auburn wasn't a factor in that decision ... and might have actually been a deterrent:
"Being close to home, that's not always good. You can go home and get in trouble. If I decided to come here, that won't be a factor. I'll be here on the weekends. (Tallassee) is a small city, but there's all kinds of trouble to get into. It's easy to get into; hard to get out of."The candor is refreshing, no? Of course, there's a dark side to candor, and that's Loose Cannon Syndrome. Having already been out of high school for two years, being shrewd enough now to understand things like how you can be too connected to one's hometown, and with this curious incident now three years behind us, Washington surely has learned his lesson and I strongly, strongly suggest that we all understand it as one of those stupid things high school kids do and not freak out in the comments or elsewhere, please. Please. But ... yeah ...
Just yesterday the WSFA 12 Sports team publicly recognized Demond Washington for a job well done, a plaque honoring Washington's 'Athlete of the Week' honors last fall.I'm genuinely divided as to whether I ought to even be mentioning this, since--again--I'm not personally all that exercised about it*, as far as I can tell Washington was a model citizen at MGCCC, and I'm sure he's be much happier if no one ever brought it up ever again. But Google is Google, and if Washington ever says something ... unfortunate on the record when he thinks he's off, much as was the case here with the treacherous PA, we'll know it's not necessarily an isolated incident. I feel confident, however--and Auburn's coaches must--that we're not going to have that problem.
Today, Washington is getting a different kind of notice, one the Tallassee city school superintendent believes the football player regrets.
"I'm sure he wished he had not done that, wished he could take his words back," said James Jeffers.
We're told Washington spoke into the P-A system in the school and allegedly said, 'I hate white people and I'm going to kill them all!'
"There were some words expressed to that affect," said Jeffers...
As of tonight, Demond Washington won't face any legal charges because Tallassee Police and school officials believe Washington didn't mean what he said. A case of immaturity perhaps.
"Some thought he was playing around. He didn't have any idea the PA was on. Some think he might have said in intentionally but I find that hard to believe. That's just my opinion," said Jeffers.
School officials declined to allow Washington tell his side of the story and he couldn't be reached for comment off campus.
What conclusions we can draw, if any: First things first: Washington has some genuine, obvious potential returning punts, and that position was both vacant in the wake after Rob Dunn's departure and more-or-less unclaimed after spring practice**. I wouldn't be surprised if Washington takes over the punt returning duties from Day 1.
Outside of that, I think it's anyone's guess what happens with Washington. He's a good fit for the Spread Eagle 2.0: he's small and quick, yeah, but at 185 pounds he's also got a little bit of stoutness to him and seems to run through arm tackles on the highlight video fairly well. If McCalebb's not rugged enough, Tate's not decisive enough, and the freshmen aren't quick enough on the uptake, Washington could get more than his expected share of carries.
But personally, I think his best shot at playing time is on defense. For one thing, while I'm not overly concerned with Washington's size, it's even less of an issue at corner. For another, even at the JUCO level his interception rate, accolades, and Scout evaluation suggest he's really good at it. For a third, running back is already one of the most crowded positions on the team and looks ready to become all the more crowded next season. Thorpe and McFadden have the starting corner slots all but locked up, but if Savage winds up at safety or isn't all the way back from the injury, D'Antoine Hood and T'Sharvan Bell--good players but not All-SEC caliber just yet, obviously--would be all that stood between Washington and the nickelback role***. Washington's a little unfortunate that his two best positions are the two strongest ones on the Auburn roster, but I would think he would nonetheless be more valuable helping out in the secondary.
Then again, Auburn's coaches think otherwise, at least for now, and they probably know just a little bit more about the situation than I do. One thing I do know: I'm not worried about that Rivals' evaluation. While Scout praised The Toro to the hilt, Rivals was ranking him outside the entire JUCO 100. And we've already seen how that's worked out: barring injury, Freeman's going to be the starting weakside linebacker this fall and quite possibly for two more seasons. If Scout's enthusiasm for Washington is nearly as justified as what they had for The Toro, Auburn may have a better player on their hands than any of us are expecting.
*I'll be honest here: once you get past the shock factor, I think the whole situation is kind of funny. "I'm going to kill them all"? That's so far over the top it's in space. And over the school PA?!?! It's like something out a John Hughes movie as written by Quentin Tarantino. Your mileage may vary, I know.
**Justin Albert, the redshirt freshman preferred walk-on from Prattville, was handling punt returns at the A-Day game. I know there's a lot of big believers in Albert out there, and he's certainly got his shot at earning the job, but the default expectation for "highly-rated scholarship player vs. preferred walk-on" battle has to be in favor of the former, right?
***Washington's fellow newcomers at corner are fellow JUCO Taikwon Paige, possibly Reggie Taylor--though he's an academics risk--and maybe Izauea Lanier, if he winds up at corner rather than safety. However you slice it, Washington should be at the front of this group ... if he was playing at corner.