Originally created 09/10/04

Bear necessities



The day Marcus Washington was born is no different than today.

"The first thing the doctor said was 'Looks like we have got a football player here,' " said Washington's mother, Annette.

The doctor sure could prognosticate. The Georgia Bulldogs saw the same in the Burke County linebacker earlier this spring and was offered a scholarship. Marcus quickly accepted the offer.

Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell planned for Washington earlier this season. The coaching legend, now in his 33rd year, might know more than the Bulldogs' staff when perusing the vine for football players.

"That young man at Burke County may be the best linebacker I have ever seen," Campbell said. "And I've seen plenty of good ones around the state who went on to play at Georgia and elsewhere."

Campbell's praises rolled off his tongue as if selling a top-of-the line car.

"I haven't seen a linebacker any better in all my years," Campbell said. "I definitely see why Georgia offered him early. He just scared us to death on film. He's 220 pounds. He's fast and ferocious. He will make a name for himself in college football. There's no question in my mind about that."

Annette was in no shape to argue with her doctor when she delivered 17 years ago.

"He just had these big whopping shoulders," she said. "He just didn't want to come out. He almost killed his momma, the same way he tries to kill those boys on the football field."

She guessed the intention.

"I like to be a player that can bring the pain when he makes that tackle," Washington said. "Ask any player. It's fun to dish out pain. It's like Christmas. Giving is better than receiving when it comes to the game of football."

THE FIRST TIME Marcus played football, he was 7. The experience followed a familiar script. Mom was timid about him getting hurt.

But this wasn't Annette being overprotective. Marcus was playing football with boys seven and eight years older than him.

"Mom was real worried, and Dad forbid me to play with those 15-year-olds," Washington said.

Marcus was equal parts quick, brave and nave. The teenagers said, "Hike!" and handed him the ball. Then they took turns throwing him around.

"I was always coming home crying and hurt," Washington said. "But I would always go back out and play. I would sneak out."

That's why he seems to know no fear on the field, and his highlight film looks like somebody pressed the fast-forward button when he closes in on a tackle.

"I got thumped," Washington said. "They wanted me to play because I was the young cat they could all drill into the ground. But that built up toughness in me both mentally and physically. I got used to bumps and bruises and pain. I grew up by learning how to take it and get back up off the ground."

WASHINGTON FINALLY GOT to play recreational football when he was 10.

"I was always real close to not getting to keep playing football because of Moms," Washington said. "She was always afraid I was going to get hurt."

Then the 223-pound linebacker breaks into an imitation Rich Little or Dave Chappelle would be proud of.

"Now, Marcus I just don't know what I would do if you hurt yourself playing that football," he screeched, imitating his mother in his best majorette voice.

"I have to thank my Dad for talking her into it," Washington said, returning to normal voice. "If I ever got hurt in those young days, that would have been it. Good thing I never got hurt."

Annette laughs out loud when she's asked about worrying her son away from a fabulous future.

"I still cover my eyes," she said. "I think they hit too hard out there still, I can't watch. I'm so busy praying my baby doesn't get hurt."

If Mom only knew what those mothers on the receiving end of her son's tackles are feeling. When her son hits somebody, it looks like it belongs in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of Washington's favorite movies.

THE COLLEGE COACHES started calling Burke County coach Steve Summers last year.

"He ran down a receiver from Shaw in the playoffs his sophomore year," Summers said. "It's a little speck of a receiver Marcus has 40 pounds on. They run a hook-and-ladder play and Marcus runs him down. Now this is a good player in the playoffs and Marcus chases him like it was from Waynesboro to Augusta. It was like 40 yards. I saw that with my own eyes, and the only word for it was 'Wow.' "

Any coach seeking job security would've called after seeing that.

"The first words out of my mouth to those coaches were that they were interested in a young man who was as fine a person off the field he is on it," Summers said. "He's a very respectful and courteous young man. It's a credit to his mom and dad for the way they raising him."

Two young men practicing basketball at the Waynesboro Recreation Center backed the coach up on that. Neither is a football player. Devonda Lewis and Brendan Samuels share the same first-period computer class with Washington.

"He's a down-to-earth guy," Lewis said. "Just because he is going to Georgia doesn't make him think he's all that."

Samuels, a junior, has played with Washington on the Burke County basketball team.

"He's cool with everybody," Samuels said. "That comes from home. He's got good parents."

Lewis is inspired by Washington's score on the SAT.

"If he can do it I can do it too," Lewis said. "But he's made it off his mind also. He's got a college brain. If things don't go well in football. He's got the mind to fall back on when he's at Georgia."

The next problem Washington creates will be his first at Burke County.

"Georgia's coaches asked us a lot about attitude," Burke County defensive coordinator Jim Pavao said. "They want a kid who is not going to be a problem. Marcus is real coachable. He will respond to a pat on the back, a kick in the butt or if you chew him out. That was big with Georgia. They want players who are not just athletes, but coachable athletes with character. That's Marcus."

ANNETTE WASHINGTON AND Summers both laugh when asked about Washington's college choice.

"Marcus wants to paint his room red," Annette said. "He says he's knows a girl at school that's a good artist. He wants to get her to draw a big bulldog on his wall."

Summers remembers sorting through the college offers.

"I told him he had all these visits he could take and schools he could go see," Summer said. "He looks me in the eye and says 'Coach, I don't want to waste Georgia's time and I don't want to waste mine. I'm a Bulldog.' That was good for me."

"He's a specimen," Pavao said. "He's got like only 6 or 7 percent body fat."

Every snapshot of the young man just screams football player.

"Hey, I guess I have to listen to what everybody said from that doctor on down the line," Annette Washington said. "I guess Marcus was just born to play football."