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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Washington turning heads

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

In a matchup of ranked teams, No. 24 Arizona took on the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. A stout defense and pesky special teams helped the Wildcats to a 34-27 upset victory.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat In a matchup of ranked teams, No. 24 Arizona took on the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. A stout defense and pesky special teams helped the Wildcats to a 34-27 upset victory.

For a group that was supposed to be Arizona’s weakness in 2010, the Wildcats’ defense has without a doubt exceeded expectations through three games.

But nobody within that unit — or the entire team for that matter — has over-achieved more than redshirt freshman Justin Washington.

The inexperienced defensive tackle burst onto the scene with a sack in his first collegiate play during the season opener against Toledo and hasn’t looked back since.

“”He’s a playmaker, and he just seems to make plays and find the football,”” head coach Mike Stoops said of Washington. “”He gives us another player with that front four. For a redshirt freshman, leading the Pac-10 in sacks is pretty good.””

As Stoops said, Washington sits atop the Pacific 10 Conference in sacks with four, including two electrifying sacks that sealed the deal against Iowa Saturday during the Hawkeyes’ final drive.  

“”Justin Washington just keeps getting better and better every week. He had a huge challenge today, and he’ll keep having bigger challenges as we progress through the Pac-10,”” said co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish after the Iowa win.

“”Very pleased with his progress. I know he wants to get better and he’s working hard at it,”” he added. “”I’m really glad that he’s been able to perform the way he has for the first couple of weeks.””

During that final drive Washington played like a four-year veteran — quite a contrast from the player that was just another name on the defensive tackle depth chart during training camp.  

“”A month ago, I would never imagine me leading the Pac-10 (in sacks),”” a humble Washington said with a big smile. “”It’s all new to me. It’s all coming new.””

Early on in camp it was expected that the defensive tackle spot wouldn’t belong to just one player for the first few weeks.

“”Those will be positions by committee,”” Stoops said after the second day of camp. “”We’ll be strength in numbers, and I think that will help us.””

With Lolomana Mikaele, Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore cementing three of the four defensive line positions, the biggest void was clearly at tackle, and at that point no one player had really stood out.

And even early on in the season Stoops admitted that Washington basically won the starting job by default. While he did say “”he earned it,”” he also added, “”I just wasn’t happy with some of the other players.””

But being overlooked was nothing new for Washington.

Coming out of Texas’ Cypress Woods High School in 2008, the two-star recruit was an afterthought for a lot of top programs. He garnered offers from Arizona, Oklahoma State, Utah and UTEP, which is nowhere near the interest you would think after watching Washington through three games.

Even he didn’t have an answer for why he didn’t gain any attention.

“”I don’t know, you tell me,”” he said when asked why he didn’t have many offers. “”I don’t know. I don’t know, I really don’t. But I’m here now.””

Stoops and former Arizona coach Dana Dimel — who recruited him — saw a lot of potential in Washington, however.

“”He’s got excellent feet, a good athlete, and that’s what we saw and we knew he’d grow into being an inside player,”” Stoops said

He came into the 2009 training camp as a defensive end, his main position in high school, and seemed too small to play defensive tackle.

Washington’s added about 15 pounds since high school but is still small compared to most defensive linemen in the country, especially those leading their respective conference in sacks.

However, yet again, the redshirt freshman has disproven the doubters, and when his number was called, Washington was ready. Coming in underrated and exceeding expectations was no new task for Washington — in fact, it’s become the norm.

“”I always like a challenge,”” Washington said. “”I do try to prove people wrong a lot because there’s always challenges, and I always try to overcome them.””

Whether or not the 6-foot-2, 275-pound first-timer can keep up this type of production remains to be seen. But according to Stoops, “”The sky is the limit for him as a player.””

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