By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
While early preseason-hype focused on running backs from Kemper Academy and Calhoun Academy, Russell Christian Academy running back quietly trained. He had more important things on his mind – getting bigger, stronger, meaner.
The 6-foot-2 junior didn't need to see his name on any preseason-award watch list. His play was going to make people notice.
“I felt like Russell was underrated at the beginning of the season,” Washington said. “I just wanted to show people that we all could play.”
Washington's 20 rushing touchdowns and 1,327 yards on only 113 carries not only gained the attention of MAIS coaches this season, it led to an eventual 8-man District 1 Offensive MVP award. The Warrior running back is the first Russell Christian player to be named Offensive MVP in school history.
“It feels good to have the privilege to win this award,” Washington said. “It is just a privilege that all the other coaches selected me.”
Washington is shy to accept praise and credits the achievement to the help from his team, especially his offensive line.
“I tell (the offensive line) about every day, thank you for blocking for me,” Washington said. “Something like this is big for the team, because it just helps put Russell on the map some more.”
Though not as outspoken as others on the team, Washington's leadership was unmistakeable in the Warrior locker room. Russell Christian head coach Nate Ballard said Washington led the Warriors through example, giving his all on and off the field.
“Man, Arik is a great kid,” Ballard said. “He doesn't say much at all, but he is just a hard worker. In the weight room, just what he does; he's really concerned with doing things the right way in order to get better. He is just tireless in doing drills to make himself better.”
Washington proved he was able to carry the team through crucial moments this season. As a returning starter next year, Ballard said he will look to rely on his running back to keep improving and lead the team again in 2013.
“I remember the Calhoun game, the first time we played them,” Ballard said. “We got the ball with that last series, and there was a little time left on the clock. I just turned to Arik and said 'the ball is in your hands now, run this clock out for us,' and that is exactly what he did. In the championship game, we gave the ball to Arik, and he just grinded. He's just a special player.”
It has always been Washington's dream to play at the University of Alabama. This offseason, Washington said he plans to continue getting bigger and stronger, as well as attend camps at both Alabama and Mississippi State University.
For anyone doubting the possibility of a kid from a small private school making it to the SEC, it is probably best to wait until later to tell the talented running back– he's already hard at work proving people wrong.