PULLMAN – It was going to be the recruiting class that signaled a rebirth at Washington State for prospects in the Puget Sound area. An incursion that would make the University of Washington sit up and take notice.
As it turns out, not so much.
Nolan Washington is the last of those four players who signed at WSU in February 2009, and he figures it’s high time to make a lasting mark.
“I just really want to finish what I started when I came here,” said Washington, a Kennedy High graduate, after a recent practice.
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Having redshirted the 2009 season, he’s the only one left of that west-side foursome.
This was the picture when they signed at WSU: Washington had just slogged through its winless season in 2008, while the Cougars were enduring their own miserable 2-11 year.
But Paul Wulff’s regime was a year entrenched, recruiting contacts had been established, and the Huskies had just made a coaching change. One of the first acts of Steve Sarkisian as the new UW coach was to hustle across the lake to Skyline High to plead a case with receiver Gino Simone.
Simone stayed with a commitment to WSU. Signing along with him the next February were Jamal Atofau, a safety from Bellevue High; linebacker Andre Barrington of Federal Way; and Washington, who had significant interest from Arizona State and Minnesota, among others.
Simone had a bumpy ride, prominent early, nagged by injuries later, finishing with 19 catches for 226 yards as a senior. He had a memorable, fourth-quarter reception in WSU’s Apple Cup comeback win.
Atofau and Barrington were gone from the program in less than two years after they were busted by police who found a marijuana-growing operation in a Pullman residence. Barrington received a sentence of 30 days’ confinement or 240 hours of community service, while charges against Atofau, who had had other off-field run-ins at WSU, were dropped by Whitman County with the notation: “Too confusing to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Atofau and Barrington played the 2012 season at 600-student Virginia University of Lynchburg, a school under the umbrella of the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Assn.
Washington, set to graduate in December, is thus left to help continue the reclamation of WSU football. Once, he stood on the practice field with Simone, and told The Seattle Times in 2009: “We’re all big thinkers, not just me and him, but our whole class. We all have big dreams.”
Four years later, an older, wiser Washington conceded that reality can be cold.
“It’s a process,” he said. “Now I can say, we can actually do this. We can get to a bowl game, we can compete for a Pac-12 title — compared to my freshman year, it was more me being an optimist. I had no idea. Me being older, it’s easier to assess that.”
He started every game in 2010, but the starts have dropped to 10 over the past two years as he has played in and out of injury and inconsistency.
“Nolan’s going to have a great year, if he can just stay healthy,” said WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske. “He’s probably been our most consistent corner this fall camp.”
Washington calls former Kennedy classmate Tre Watson, now a UW defensive back, his best friend. He doesn’t spend a lot of time anymore around Seattle, but when he does, he ribs Huskies friends about WSU’s Apple Cup victory nine months ago, while they give it back, recalling Kasen Williams’ vault over Washington in the 2011 game as he was poised for a would-be tackle.
Washington has known Williams a long time and takes it good-naturedly, saying, “He and I have always been good competitors. That happens; it’s part of the game.”
Similarly, he figures it’s part of the plan for the Cougars to be upwardly mobile in 2013.
“I came here to change the culture,” he said. “This year, I want to get the job done. We finally have the team to do it. We finally have all the pieces.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org