Washington Ready To Add Return Role To WVU Resume
ARLINGTON, Texas – West Virginia cornerback Keith Washington saw an opportunity to help his team, so he stepped in to volunteer.
One of the many gaps to be filled on the 2019 roster was in the return game, so the senior leader, who moved to Prattville, Alabama, near the end of his junior season of high school, saw an opportunity.
“I signed myself up,” Washington said of the kickoff return job he is trying to add to his resume this year. “I mentioned it to the coaches, and Coach Brown saw my film when I was playing quarterback at Prattville, so they knew what I can do with the ball in my hands.”
Washington is one of three Mountaineers listed as a kickoff returner in the first depth chart of the preseason, which came out with the release of the 2019 football media guide. Sam James and Tevin Bush are also listed as candidates in what figures to be an open competition. Bush has ten returns over the past two seasons for a total of 200 yards, while James, like Washington, will be making his first return efforts this season.
The return game is an area where West Virginia needs improvement. The Mountaineers managed just 372 total kickoff return yards a season ago, averaging a paltry 17.7 yards per return.
West Virginia fans have gotten a glimpse of what Washington can do when he gets his hands on the ball, although his big highlight began on a defensive play last year. With the Mountaineers struggling to hold on to a 35-27 lead at Texas Tech a year ago, Washington swooped in to pick off a Jett Duffy pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown to secure an eventual 42-34 win.
“Every time I touch the ball, I try to take it to the house,” said Washington, speaking of both that return and his potential spot on the 2019 kickoff return squad. “My dad, from when I was young, told me when you get it, try to score a touchdown. It’s a mindset. Every time I get the ball, I want to take it to the end zone.”
Washington also did plenty of that in high school, but from a different position. At quarterback, he was an dual-threat, piling up 1,201 rushing yards and 20 scores on the ground.
“I have had the ball in my hands my whole life,” he said, explaining his comfort in returning kicks and facing defenses. “[At Prattville] , I didn’t return kicks, because my coach didn’t want to put the quarterback back there on kickoff returns. But it’s no different returning a kickoff than catching it at the 20-yard line as a quarterback and running a draw play. It’s something that is natural for me. This is my fourth year playing corner, but I’ve been playing offense my whole life.”
“It will be the first time I will have the chance to touch the ball [as a return man] ,” he continued. “I didn’t return the ball in high school or in junior college. Coach (Neal) Brown and the coaches believe in me. I am really excited about it.”
Washington is confident he can make an impact in the return game and help solidify a Mountaineer secondary that has gone through some upheaval in the offseason, and some of that stems from the path he has traveled to his final year of collegiate football. After spending two years at Michigan, he transferred down to Copiah-Lincoln Junior College, and played well to earn his way back to Division I with WVU. Overcoming that career setback has given him the confidence to master new challenges that come his way.
“Getting humbled by going back down to juco level and working my way back up to West Virginia, it has helped me a lot. I wouldn’t change anything about it,” he said. “Going back to juco helped me focus on the game. I knew I had to work hard to get back, and I just viewed it as an opportunity. I didn’t let it get me down.”