Having done his share of cutting up defenses and turf during a prolific high school career at Kennedale, Juwan Washington packed up his football dreams more than two years ago and headed west for San Diego, coincidentally, the City in Motion.
Washington has returned home for Saturday’s Armed Forces Bowl at TCU. About 60 of his family and friends will be among those in attendance at Amon G. Carter Stadium to watch the Aztecs (10-2) take on Army (9-3).
What could be more agreeable than home at Christmas? A bowl game and lots of stories to tell, of course, not to mention the good tidings to share about his future.
After biding his time and having been mentored by two of the nation’s top tailbacks, the redshirt sophomore appears on his way.
When he leaves again in January, he’ll be going off to become The Man in San Diego State’s offense, where rushing yards have been as plentiful as the beach sand in Southern California.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s game, Washington will be inheriting the role of lead back, following two running backs who each rushed for more than 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons, including Rashaad Penny in 2017.
“It looked like we might go to the Frisco Bowl, and I was hoping for that,” Washington said. “But then I saw Fort Worth. Most of my family is here. I was excited about.
“This is where everything started for me. This will always be home. Where the journey began. It’s a very special feeling.”
Washington ran for more than 5,000 yards and 75 touchdowns in his high school career at Kennedale while playing under coach Richard Barrett. Concerns about his size limited his recruiting profile, but Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Horton — a native of Arlington — happily scooped him up.
He is one of 13 Texans on the Aztecs roster, including two quarterbacks, sophomore Ryan Agnew of Southlake Carroll and freshman Cam Roane of Colleyville Heritage.
Washington redshirted his first season, working on the scout team that year. As a redshirt freshman, he was third on the depth chart behind D.J. Pumphrey and Penny.
This year, as the second back in a 1-2 punch with Penny, the speedy, shifty Washington has rushed for 715 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff back for a score.
An infectious personality with a bundle of energy also make him stand out, coaches and teammates said.
“A lot of people were scared off by size, but running backs come in all shapes and sizes,” Horton said. “You could see the potential on the scout team. He loves practicing, he loves being on the field. The last two years, he has jumped in.
“This year, he’s really developed.”
Washington (5-foot-7, 190 pounds) watched his good friend, Penny, become the 23rd player in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 yards this season. The 22nd was Pumphrey, a draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles who missed all season with an injury.
Penny might be the most underappreciated to do so. Neither the Doak Walker nor the Heisman Trophy committees named him a finalist. Playing in a non-Power 5 conference and on the West Coast — even during a time when technology has essentially erased regions and time zones — appeared to hurt him, like it did Marshall Faulk almost 25 years before.
Pumphrey, whose 6,405 career rushing yards are the most all-time, came to the defense of his former teammate.
The risk of running into the same thing in the next two years doesn’t concern Washington. He knows he has a job to do at a place he loves almost as much as home.
“The main thing is how humble he is. He never complained about it. Takes it how it is,” Washington said of Penny. “He always looked at the positive. He’s never down about it. He just works every day.
“It doesn’t concern me at all. If Rashaad can do it, I can do it. He never once complained. We all know he’s the best running back in the country.”
Washington’s chief concern are the shoes he will be asked to fill.
The only question seems to be if he can handle the workload at his size. Coach Rocky Long and Horton both are true believers, as is the incumbent.
“I think he’ll rush for 2,000 yards, too,” Penny said. “I think he has all the tools to do it: tough, smart, very fast. It’s his team next year. I’m excited to watch him go.”
Who knows what fate has in store, but Washington also knows what he wants to do once his playing career is over.
Return home and follow in his former coach’s footsteps at Kennedale. He sees himself as Barrett’s successor one day, doing for others what his former coaches did for him. Namely, convince him he could succeed in the west.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. So far, Washington is living proof.
“They knew I was going to a great place,” Washington said of his coaches at Kennedale. “I love it out here.”