What Makes Kelley Washington Tick?

Fully realizing I'm running the risk of being pronounced mad by many, it's still incumbent upon an opinion writer to have an opinion even if doesn't conform with the populous view.<P>

Perhaps it's even more incumbent to express that opinion when it's doesn't parallel the popular perspective. Otherwise you're doing little more than leading the chorus.

With that qualifier out of the way, let me say: Monday's news Kelley Washington will not play in Saturday's season opener vs. Wyoming is better than bad, and it's quite possibly good news.

Sure it takes your top offensive weapon out of the available arsenal, but if also forces several young receivers to take one step forward. The pressure to perform will accelerate the growth process much like a coal under pressure becomes a diamond. The dividends will come further down the road against the likes of Florida, Georgia and Miami, opponents too talented for Washington to carry the receiving load alone.

Moreover it's an opportunity for Tennessee to prove it's a football force without Washington, who is the Vols only preseason all-American. That's something those whom let their play speak for itself should relish. At the very least it will heighten Tennessee's level of alertness and energize their performance.

Word is Washington made the decision to sit this one out on his own. Some will speculate that he is being overly cautious in regard to his pro future. Similar speculation surrounded tailback Jamal Lewis' last season with the Vols in 1999 and he became the focus of what was wrong with the defending national champions.

In retrospect, while Lewis may have indeed been protecting his pro prospects, he also appears to simply be injury prone. He missed most of his sophomore season after suffering a knee injury and much of his junior campaign with an ankle and shoulder injury. He suffered a shoulder dislocation in his rookie preseason with the Ravens and missed all of last season with another knee injury.

Certainly no one knows how his knee sprain feels better than Washington and, therefore, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. After all this is the same player who decided to return to college for another season even though it's fairly certain he would have been a first-round pick on the strength of his combine work alone. There's nothing about the way he practices that would suggest he's going through the motions in anticipation of a multimillion dollar contract. He appears to compete whenever he steps on the field.

The rap against Washington has more to do with his personality than his performance. He loves the spotlight and struts like a peacock on the prowl after big plays. Such boastful displays understandably rub a lot of people the wrong way, but it doesn't make him a slacker.

In regards to how his penchant for self celebration affects the team; it's probably a case of the proverbial double-edged sword. No doubt it can fire up the opposition, but it can also engender an unhealthy preoccupation for the defense on one player. That in turn takes pressure off the rest of the offense and creates opportunities.

Interestingly, Washington's apparent arrogance has drawn comparisons to former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier aka Steve Superior. Although from distinctly dissimilar backgrounds, there is some real credence to those comparisons when you consider the likely source of their confidence.

After winning the Heisman Trophy at Florida, Spurrier spent an undistinguished 10-year career in the NFL mostly as a backup. The one season he did start for the expansion Tampa Bay Bucs, he directed his team to the only winless season (0-14) in NFL history. He left his first two college assistant coaching jobs after one year before landing the head coaching job for the now defunct Tampa Bay Bandits. From there he went to Duke and helped turnaround the hapless Blue Devils. Soon he was back at Florida where he enjoyed great success and was anointed with the title offensive genius — he prefers the term "mastermind."

Washington had a less than spectacular career as an option quarterback in high school and was only offered a football scholarship by Hofstra. Instead he accepted a minor league contract as a late round draft pick. He didn't distinguish himself during a four-year stint knocking around the minors and struggled to bat .220 against AA pitching. It would have been interesting to compare his reactions now to his reactions when striking out time after time against garden variety curve balls thrown by pedestrian pitchers.

Although Washington never conquered our nation's pastime, he did grow into a man and had the confidence to try college football after a long absence from the gridiron.

Likewise Spurrier didn't stop believing in himself despite his shortcomings as a play-for-pay signal caller. Neither did he let his early strikeouts as a college assistant convince him that he couldn't become a successful head coach.

Perhaps Spurrier and Washington are pompous, but they are also survivors. They have great talent in common as well as uncommon confidence and it was forged in the fires of failure.

And finally, whether you like or despise Steve Spurrier or Washington, who could fairly called the Wizard of Ahs, you'd rather have them on your side than on your hit list.

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