Versatile player having breakthrough year

A.L. Brown's Damien Washington is a marked man on the football field, whether he's running the ball, catching a pass, returning a kick or even dropping back to throw a pass.

That versatility has made Washington a threat every time he touches the ball for the Wonders.

"He can do pretty much anything on the field," said Kannapolis coach Mike Newsome. "He's been an impact player every single game, and that's exactly what we need out of our senior leaders."

When he first met Washington in the Wonders' weight room this summer, Newsome said, he thought the 6-1, 190-pounder "looked the part of a great football player."

Newsome hasn't been disappointed. He has grown to expect the speedy, explosive Washington to make something happen when he has the football.

In his team's first three games, Washington scored nine touchdowns on only 31 touches. That's the way he likes it.

"My goal every time I touch the ball is to get it in the end zone," said Washington, who had 604 total yards (329 rushing, 147 receiving, 91 returning and 37 passing) heading into Sept. 9's game at Porter Ridge.

Washington had a good junior season, but he's flourished so far this year. He credits his breakthrough in part to Newsome's offense, which he said prevents defenses from focusing on him or any of his teammates.

"It's been a good fit," said Washington, who mainly plays the Kannapolis H-back position, which is a running back/receiver combo role. "It's not based on just one person. Everybody gets to touch the ball and see what they can do with the ball."

Washington admitted he enjoys having different roles for his Wonders.

"It's actually fun," he said. "You can help out the team more."

Washington stays motivated on the field, knowing how much he hates to lose. He said he remembers just about every loss he's had since he first started playing football at age 9.

"Losing is a part of life, but so is winning, and that feels much better," he said.

He has put in a lot of work since he arrived at Brown, hitting the weight room to try to get stronger and even faster.

"Winning is not something that comes easy," said Washington. "You have to work in order to win."

As much as the 17-year-old has stood out on the field, Newsome said, what has impressed him the most is the way Washington carries himself.

"Damien's one of those guys that's going to do the right thing," said Newsome. "People are going to follow guys like that. He's the consummate leader."

As a team captain, Washington said he takes his leadership role for the Wonders seriously, aiming to show his teammates the way by example. That starts with the little things - like making sure that his jersey is tucked in or that he arrives on time for every practice - and continues on the field and the classroom.

"If I go hard in practice, then everyone else will go hard," he said. "If I'm doing the right things, keeping my grades up in school, then everybody will follow behind me."

Washington hopes to continue to help the Wonders as they pursue their ultimate goal of playing for a state championship. The team can accomplish that, he said, if it plays to its potential.

Although he said he'll continue to put his team before himself, Washington is excited about playing at North Carolina next season. He committed to the Tar Heels, who he said he's followed for most of his life, in early August.

"It's an honor to actually be able to say I'll play for them next year," said Washington.