For two years, Mallard Creek High quarterback Jadyn Washington has stood on the sideline, watched and waited his turn.
He said he dreamed, often, of leading the Mavericks onto the field for a big playoff or state championship game, himself starting under center. And he wanted to be ready.
So Washington, who turned 16 on July 18, said he watched and learned – studying the quarterbacks before him, engorging himself with the Mavericks’ scheme and playbook, steeling his nerves to the type of big-game environments in which the Mavericks often seem to find themselves.
So when Washington led the Mavericks to a 28-21 win at Scotland County last week, no one around Mallard Creek was surprised, even though his team was returning just one offensive starter, five total; and even though his team was facing a 4A state championship favorite from Laurinburg that returned nearly all of its key players. That included perhaps the nation’s best high school football player, senior tailback Zamir White.
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“We expected that out of him,” said Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri, whose team faces another tough test Friday night at home against N.C. 4AA powerhouse Butler. “He had a great summer. We knew he had the poise to play in big games and that’s why he is the starting quarterback.
“It’s why we scheduled a game like this. We knew we had a young guy out there and we wanted to get (any big-game jitters) out of the way early (in the season). But he played a lot better than a lot of people expected. He had a good mindset and was a good leader.”
Washington admitted Wednesday before practice that he was nervous, but when the Mavericks intercepted a Scotland County pass on the opening possession, he said a calm came over him. Studying Scotland’s tendencies on film, Mallard Creek’s coaching staff thought they could get a big pass play early. The Mavericks’ first offense play, called “114-Z-8,” was designed to do just that.
Washington said he just knew his team could hit it.
“We prepared for it all summer,” Washington said, “and we knew that would be the play by the way they set up the defense. So I’m just trying to read the safeties and see what they did. If I didn’t have (the long pass), I had (a shorter one) underneath. But the post was there. I just went through my progressions, and....”
He hit Lovelle Williams with a 37-yard pass for a touchdown on his first varsity pass. A few plays later, he hit Williams with a 20-yard fade for another score.
For the game, Washington was 7-for-11 and 168 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over. He didn’t fumble.
“I thought he did a great job, especially for a junior playing his first (varsity) game,” Scotland coach Richard Bailey said. “I thought he threw the ball well. He looks like a promising player.
“He’s going to excel in a spread offense like Mallard Creek runs, where he’s that dual-threat guy. I think he’ll do really well and be great at Mallard Creek for the next two years.”
Washington said becoming the starting quarterback at what might be the state’s No. 1 program was everything he thought it would be. Mallard Creek has won three of the past four N.C. 4AA state championships, is often nationally ranked and played in many of the biggest showcase games involving N.C. teams over the past five or six seasons.
Washington remembers watching James Smith lead the team to the 2015 N.C. 4AA state championship over Greensboro Page. He also remembers watching how Butler ended Mallard Creek’s 16-game postseason win streak and dreams of a fourth straight championship last November.
“I would come to the games and just sit there and watch and take mental reps,” Washington said. “When I saw (Smith) win state, that was a big goal for me. Last year, losing in the playoffs was really big for me. It was hard. I wanted to win state again, and that’s our goal now – to get back and win another state championship this year.”
Washington played junior varsity his first two years at Mallard Creek. He was a backup quarterback as a freshman, but started the final game of his ninth-grade season, after the starter got injured.
Washington led the junior varsity Mavericks to a win over North Mecklenburg and never surrendered the starting job. Washington’s team was undefeated his sophomore year. And now, he’s the starting quarterback on varsity.
“This is all I dreamed about, playing here, coming to the Creek,” he said. “My freshman year, I didn’t know it would be this hard. I thought I was good but they showed me that I was kind of selfish as a freshman and how I needed to learn to build team chemistry. It was fun watching (the varsity) all this time. I was learning the plays, learning how to control the offense and (opposing) defense, just learning to become a leader. Now, it’s going to be fun, real fun. We’ll keeping building team chemistry. I mean, just watch us grow.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr