The Daily Aztec

Juwan Washington given the keys to the Aztecs offense

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Then-sophomore running back Juwan Washington returns the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown during SDSU's 34-28 win over NIU.

Then-sophomore running back Juwan Washington returns the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown during SDSU's 34-28 win over NIU.

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Photo by Kelly Smiley

Then-sophomore running back Juwan Washington returns the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown during SDSU's 34-28 win over NIU.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

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San Diego State football junior running back Juwan Washington has bided his time since joining the Aztecs.

That is not to say that the 5-foot-7-inch rusher from Kennedale, Texas, has spent years riding the bench. Far from it.

Washington has never missed a game in his collegiate career since redshirting in 2015, and through his last 20 games has a total of 17 touchdowns through both air, ground and special teams.

What he has never had a chance to do, however, is play feature back for a football program which has taken the position to historic heights.

In his freshman campaign in 2016, Washington played third fiddle to then-senior Donnel Pumphrey and backup Rashaad Penny.

Pumphrey rushed for 2,133 yards that season, a number which Penny would eclipse during his senior year when he led the FBS in rushing yards with 2,248.

It was the first time in NCAA history that a school has had running backs rush for over 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Washington said he knows that he will have big shoes to fill, but believes he has been put in the best position to succeed.

“The bar has been set,” he said. “I don’t really like it as pressure, or more motivation to do the same thing those guys have done in the past. I know with everything that happened around me I’m in the best position that there is to be successful.”

Washington backed up Penny last season, but still managed to finish with 759 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, in addition to two kickoff return touchdowns, one of which came in the Aztecs loss in the Armed Forces Bowl to Army West Point.

This year, it is Washington’s turn to lead the charge out of the backfield, and he said that he will relish the role of being this year’s primary playmaker.

“It’s really exciting just to know that, a lot of times there’s things going on a lot of people are going to look to you to help the team out in different ways,” Washington said. “Everybody would like to be in that position, and I think that it’s something you have to realize that you have a lot going on and you have to make the best of it.”

Despite Washington not having played an expanded role before, media outlets have been paying attention, and he was named to both the Maxwell Award and Paul Hornung Award watch lists.

The Maxwell Award is given each year to the college player of the year, while the Paul Hornung Award is given to college football’s most versatile player.

Washington said that being given the preseason recognition is nice because it shows people are paying attention, but he also knows that he now must live up to the hype.

“(Getting the awards) just means (the media’s) noticing. That we have good running backs coming in and we’ve had a tradition,” he said. “I think it falls along that. It just makes me want to work harder just to live up to the hype.”

Washington will be aided by running behind a more experienced offensive line, following a year where five different players made first-time starts at the position.

One of the players creating holes up front is sophomore right guard Keith Ismael, who said that so long as the line does it’s job, Washington should continue to keep SDSU running backs in the national spotlight.

“(Washington’s) special, just like the rest of the backs. As long as we do our job he’ll be fine,” Ismael said. “He’ll get the yards that he wants, he’ll get the yards he deserves and he’ll get the yards he needs to get the recognition by everybody — the media, east coast, they’re just not watching. It’s a big thing for us because we want to get our name out there.”

Head coach Rocky Long said Washington has already shown he can play at this level, and expects the guys up front to do their part in aiding his success.

“All you have to do is look at what he’s done the last couple years as the backup,” Long said. “If our offensive line plays well, which we expect them to do, I don’t see a real drop off there.”

Washington has shown he has big play ability since his inaugural season on the Mesa, when his 8.02 rush average was the highest by an SDSU running back since 1996, and included six touchdowns, four of which from 20 yards or longer.

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Jeff Horton said that Washington can surprise opponents who are unaware of just how fast he is.

“(Washington) kind of has deceptive speed,” he said. “It looks like he’s gliding sometimes when you see him run back the kickoffs for touchdowns and break long runs. He can certainly go get it.”

Horton said he believes Washington is ready, and that he has the proper skills needed to dominate at this level of competition.

“I know (Washington) is ready to assume the role,” he said. “(He) has proven he can make plays at this level. He’s a big time playmaker.”

Washington also has the support of senior Christian Chapman, the Aztecs longtime quarterback who has started 29 consecutive games since 2015.

“We’ve seen what (Washington’s) done in the past. He’s special teams, and in the run game he can do it, he’s got the skill set to do it,” Chapman said. “I don’t expect the run game to fall off much.”

SDSU will be looking to return to the peak of the Mountain West Conference, after failing to make the championship game last year despite coming in to the season as two-time defending conference champs.

Washington was a part of the team’s championship runs in both 2015 and 2016, and said that his goal is to get the Aztecs back on top while playing a bigger role than in the past.

“My main goal for the whole season is to get another ring,” Washington said. “That’ll be my third one since I came in, and it’ll mean even more just to know that I’m contributing a little bit more to this one.”

SDUS first chance comes on the road on Aug. 31 against Stanford University, and Washington said he has no desire to fall into the hype that can surround playing a big school.

“No game is bigger than the other, and I think last year that’s kind of how we fell off a little bit, taking the game bigger than it really was,” Washington said. “I think everyone is going to hype up the first game, but in my eyes it’s just another game, we’ve just got to go out there and win.”

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