Head Start

Junior college linebacker Leandre Washington is making the most of his early start with the Mountaineer football team.

Washington, who came to WVU from Key West, Florida via Mesa Community College in Arizona, has jumped right in to the routine of being both a student and a football player. He's taking advantage of spring practice to get a head start on the other Mountaineer newcomers who won't arrive until fall. He admits, however, that college life at a four-year university is much different than anything he has experienced before.

"It's different. You have to go to class every day, and you can't sleep in. You've got people checking in on you, and if you don't go to class you've got to run. It's just different."

Stricter personal routines aren't the only thing to which Washington has had to adjust. After spending his life in sunny Florida, and dry Arizona, the climate in West Virginia has been something of a surprise for the stocky linebacker, who says that the "snow and rain" are far different from what he's used to. However, just like his classroom regimen, that is "coming around" as well.

"It's been good. All the coaches and guys have been helping me adapt, so everything is falling in place."

On the field, the hard hitting Washington isn't as far behind as he would be in an established defense where the same scheme had been taught for several years. The downside to that, of course, is that he doesn't have the other players to lean on in terms of learning the nuances of the scheme. Washington notes that everyone is pretty much even as they learn the odd stack.

In fact, Washington might even have a leg up on some of his defensive teammates, as WVU's new defense is very similar to what Mesa ran last year. Like many other players, he believes that it's the speed of the game that will be the most difficult to adjust to.

"This defense is a little different, but the biggest thing is the speed. Things are much faster here than they are in juco and in high school. Also, everyone up here pretty much knows what to do. In juco, not everyone knew how to get out to the second level (the linebackers), but up here everyone does."

Florida to Arizona to West Virginia is not a path that very many Mountaineer football players have followed. As is the case with many players who come from outside WVU's traditional recruiting grounds, a previous WVU connection figured in the process.

"My high school coach Jerry Hughes is from here, and he showed my film to coach Hand. Coach Hand showed it to the other coaches, and everyone gave me the thumbs up, so here I am. It all happened pretty quickly, because it was so close to signing day, but everything fell into place."

Hughes was an assistant coach for the Mountaineers duinrg 1991 and 1992, but it's obvious that his brief tenure at WVU made an impression on him that he's passed on to the players he coaches today. Washington is very close to Hughes, who lights up when talking about his former coach.

"Jerry Hughes is a good man – he's my best friend. He takes care of me and looks out for me. He calls me all the time to see how I am doing, and making sure I'm doing what I've got to do."

Ties such as those are an important part of the West Virginia football family, and in this case they've paid dividends. WVU has long relied on juco help at linebacker, and Washington could be the next in that line. Washington knows that the linebacking corps at WVU is a bit thin and short on experience, and he's anxious to make his mark on the depth chart.

"I'm trying to play right now. I've got two more years to play, so I've got to go out there and do what I've got to do to get out on the field right now."

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