Doing His Best to Help His Team

Like any sport, performing dual positions on the field can be a tall task. Today's college football scene features countless tweaks and new assignments in the playbook. It can be quite complicated for underclassmen. But Mississippi State sophomore Marcus Washington has a 'simple' plan for his pair of roles with the Bulldogs.

Sure, preparing to line up at cornerback against talented SEC receivers is a challenge. But producing on special teams is something that has come easy for Marcus Washington.

"It's basically the simplest part of football," said Washington. "You don't have too many assignments, just go down and make a play. You just run down and make a play on the ball. In football, that's easy to do."

And for his work in State's 38-17 win at Tulane, Washington earned State's special teams player of the week honor.

As a true freshman, Washington wasted little time making his impact on special teams.

In the third game of 2006, Washington picked up a fumble by the Tulane punter and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. It was State's first fumble return for a score since 2001.

Washington recovered one more fumble last year and actually finished tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference, despite not starting a single game.

"It's just something I've done all my life," said Washington. "Whatever position I am put in, I am doing my best and giving it all I got, wherever Coach puts me on the field.

"It's been about being focused mentally with the task at hand. Coach gave me the positions and I go out there and do my best. If you try your hardest, then the rest takes care of itself."

But Washington admits special teams was a sore subject last year. And it wasn't just about getting more talent and speed on the coverage units.

"I believe this year we are taking more pride in our special teams," said Washington, one of several youngsters on kickoff/punt coverages. "In the past, special teams has been like a chore. But now guys want to be on special teams and execute and make the team proud."

As far as his other role on the team, Washington didn't have quite the experience at cornerback as he did as a special team player.

On August 30th, Washington earned his first career start against none other than second-ranked LSU.

After seeing spotty play at cornerback last year, Washington is still learning on the run.

"It is more preparation," said Washington. "You have to be focused and really get ready. I have some games under my belt and feel more comfortable. Just listening to the coaches and doing my job."

It's been often documented that cornerbacks are on an island and one mistake can be all that fans remember, regardless if you made plays 99 percent of the time.

So what has been Washington's most significant change since entering the starting lineup?

"Probably being in the game on every single play," said Washington, who has six tackles and one pass break-up in two games. "You can't take a play off in the SEC. You have to keep the same focus on every play and that's been the biggest adjustment."

Like the rest of the Bulldog faithful, Washington witnessed all the hype surrounding the Thursday night opener against LSU. ESPN was there along with 50,000 more people hungry for college football.

And one of Washington's first assignments as a starter was to slow down LSU All-American Early Doucet. Yes, there were the expected nerves but Washington 'focused' on his responsibilities.

"You read the names in the paper but try not to focus on that and read too much into that," said Washington, a Missouri City, Texas, native. "Their players came to play and win just like we do every time we play. Regardless of who it is, my job is to listen to the coaches, execute at the best of my ability."

Washington can also talk and listen to a fellow classmate undergoing the same process.

Lining up on the other side is sophomore left cornerback Anthony Johnson.

Like Washington, Johnson played in all 12 games last year, working his way on coverage units and some snaps in the secondary. And like Washington, Johnson's debut in the starting lineup came against the Tigers.

"It makes it a lot easier," said Washington. "We talk about a lot of things over on the sidelines. We agree with a lot of stuff that's going on and how we should play. Yeah, it makes it a lot easier having (Johnson) on the other side, knowing both of us are going through the same growing pains."

Those growing pains have already started the shedding process for the sophomore corner duo.

Two games into the season, head coach Sylvester Croom likes the progress and physicalness of Washington and Johnson, pointing out that 'they like to hit'.

Croom understands the responsibilities put on the sophomore cornerbacks, and the load they carry in the SEC.

But Washington felt more at home in his second start.

"It was a little easier," said Washington. "I didn't know what to expect the first game. I was more focused, knew where to be at all times. I have to be prepared every play because we go against some of the best players in the country."

Like Washington's secondary showing, the Bulldogs' defense also saw drastic improvement in the second half.

After a respectable showing against LSU, State's defense continued to show their potential last Saturday in the Louisiana Superdome. State gave up 17 points but none of those were in the second half. In fact, Tulane failed to collect a first down in the final 30 minutes.

"It's a great feeling," said Washington. "You go through all the hard work, and all 11 guys doing what they should on the same play. You see that progress come together. It's a good feeling knowing we can be a very good team when all 11 guys are doing their job."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. He can be reached by email at

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