Tevin Washington was 18. He had arrived on campus at Georgia Tech weeks earlier. He was deep on the depth chart. On an August day, in the office of coach Paul Johnson, he sat across from the man who gave him his only major-college scholarship offer to play quarterback and now controlled his playing time.
Johnson wanted him to switch positions to A-back for the season. His other option would be to redshirt and stay behind classmate Jaybo Shaw. Washington was disappointed, but undaunted.
Said Washington, “I kind of told him I came to school to play quarterback.”
Washington has fulfilled his purpose, and more. Not only will Washington begin his second season as Tech’s starting quarterback Monday night against No. 16 Virginia Tech, but he has developed into the Yellow Jackets’ unchallenged leader, a position earned through perseverance and drive that is sometimes masked by his tranquil personality. Washington, who practices “yes, sir/no, sir” manners and gets teased for his floppy-armed running style, has surpassed the expectations of most, including Johnson.
Said the coach, “That’s why you never know.”
Monday, Washington returns to Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, where, on a chilly Nov. 2010 night, he was thrust to the forefront following a season-ending arm injury to starter Joshua Nesbitt.
“As soon as Tevin came into the huddle, he said, ‘Alright, guys, I’m here until Nesbitt comes back,’” former A-back Roddy Jones said. “’And if he doesn’t come back, I’m here the rest of the way. Let’s get going.’”
The Jackets lost that night, 28-21, but Washington, who had risen to the backup spot after Shaw transferred earlier in the year, held his own. He led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to tie the game at 21 and then drove Tech in the final 2:23 from its 20-yard line to the Hokies’ 16, where his pass into the end zone was intercepted with eight seconds remaining, ending the game.
He has piloted the Jackets since, 17 consecutive starts. The ride has had its bumps. At his best, Washington, from Wetumpka, Ala., is an unflappable conductor of Tech’s option-based spread offense.
“He may not be the fastest guy or have the strongest arm, but he can go out there and execute the things that give us a chance to win,” quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon said. “You’ve got to give the guy a lot of credit for that.”
Washington’s drive to become that player has set him apart. When Washington rouses his roommate and teammate Omoregie Uzzi early in the morning to go rehearse the footwork of their intricate offense or to watch video of future opponents, he is acting on years of watching his father Lewis work late hours as an educational administrator and high-school basketball coach. When Jones and others noticed Washington spending nights throwing to receivers on a campus recreation field, they saw a teammate committed to erasing his weaknesses one pass at a time.
“Most of the time, you only get one opportunity to do stuff,” Washington said, “so you don’t ever want to look back and have any regrets.”
That mindset led Washington again to Johnson’s office again last summer, just before the start of the fall term. Washington wanted to take two of the toughest requirements in the management major, computer science and finite math. Academic adviser Chris Breen and Johnson cautioned against it, concerned it would be a heavy load for any team member, let alone one about to become the full-time starting quarterback.
Washington, though, wanted to honor his word. In the summer of 2010, weeks before she died, Washington had promised his great-grandmother Mary Wilson that he would graduate in four years. To stay on track to graduate by the summer of 2012 and fulfill his promise, he needed to take both classes. Johnson relented, but told Washington that it was his responsibility.
Said Washington, “It was all good till we got around to the first test.”
Struggling the whole way, often doing coding homework on Friday nights at the team hotel, Washington barely survived. He completed his degree in August.
On the field, Washington exploded in the first half of 2011, when he led Tech to a 6-0 start. He compiled a nonsensical passer efficiency rating of 286.6 in the first four games. After that, he said, he began to put pressure on himself to maintain the Jackets’ scoring binge. Against stiffer competition, his game collapsed. Tech lost five of its last seven. In Washington’s final nine games, his rating was 104.4.
“I took the fun out of it and tried to make everything perfect,” Washington said. “Football’s not a perfect game. You’ve just got to go out and play.”
Washington, who will earn credits this semester through a co-op at a law firm, will take on one of the toughest tests of the season Monday night. The Hokies defense from 2011 ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring and yards permitted and will have eight returning starters on the field.
“He’s more confident and more comfortable, older, more mature,” Johnson said.
It looks like he’s here the rest of the way.
In case you missed it…
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog