Shawn McWashington, a former quarterback at Garfield High School and receiver at Washington State, has been hired by the Cougars as a broadcaster.
The dots connecting his past align perfectly, even if his football career had been imperfect.
Standing outside Garfield High School, where he was a star quarterback two decades ago, Shawn McWashington recalls the tiniest details of his former life.
“I could step out on that field right now and run our old offense,” he said. “I’ve always been that way about football. I just love the game so much.
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“From the time I was 8 to 25, I immersed myself in football and became a student of the game. Football was my life. It gave me everything.”
And now the game has given him a new start.
Nearly 15 years after McWashington caught his last pass for Washington State in the 1998 Rose Bowl, the Fab Five receiver will return to Pullman this fall as a radio color analyst.
He wasn’t the obvious choice to replace former Cougars coach Jim Walden in the broadcast booth, but athletic director Bill Moos said McWashington, who earned a communications degree from WSU, was his first choice.
“Ever since I’ve got the job, we’ve re-imaged every phase of Cougar football, from our head coach to our stadium and uniforms,” Moos said. “This is the latest step. It’s a good team that will help us appeal to a younger fan base.”
McWashington, 37, makes his first serious foray as a commentator and joins a three-man crew that features legendary play-by-play man Bob Robertson.
Longtime WSU broadcaster Bud Nameck, who had been the sideline reporter, moves to the booth. Jessamyn McIntyre, a 710 ESPN producer, will replace Nameck on the field.
“The times in my career when I’ve been successful, I’ve had great people around me and we’ve embraced the team concept,” McWashington said. “That’s what I’m hoping to do now.”
A month ago, they gathered for the first time in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at a WSU function.
“It was a here-we-go kind of feeling,” McIntyre said. “Shawn showed me the ropes and introduced me around. We were kind of the newbies and Bud and Bob made us feel very welcomed.”
Said McWashington: “It was great banter among everybody. Great charisma between the four of us.”
McWashington spoke with former Washington basketball player Jason Hamilton, who also returned to his alma mater as a commentator, partnering with legendary broadcaster Bob Rondeau.
Hamilton’s advice: Be yourself.
“For the listeners, Bob Robertson is really going to be their eyes to what’s happening on the field, so I want to be able to evoke some of the emotion of the game,” McWashington said. “I want to be able to explain to listeners and give them an idea of what it’s like from a player’s perspective. What they’re thinking and what they’re feeling.
“We’ll talk about X’s and O’s and why a play does or doesn’t work, but we’ll also talk about the players in an in-depth manner. Talk about his high-school career. About what he’s been going through in the past week during practice. About what that player’s goal and aspirations are and try to give the listener an in-depth view of what’s going on with the guys on the team.”
In many ways, McWashington has been preparing for his new job his entire life.
He’s a second-generation Cougar whose father, Ammon McWashington, played running back on the Cardiac Kids team in 1965 that finished 7-3, including four fourth-quarter comeback victories.
After starring at Garfield High, Shawn McWashington received scholarship offers from Oregon, Wyoming and Idaho but chose WSU, where he switched to receiver.
His early college career featured as many drops on the practice field as catches on Saturday. He started as a junior, but it wasn’t until his senior year that everything clicked.
McWashington caught 33 passes for 597 yards and three touchdowns. He describes WSU’s storybook 10-2 season as his 15 minutes of fame.
Led by strong-armed quarterback Ryan Leaf and a quintet of talented receivers, a high-powered offense carried WSU to the Rose Bowl, snapping a 67-year drought.
The Cougars lost 21-16 to Michigan, which finished undefeated and claimed The Associated Press national championship.
“Shawn knows what it’s like to win at the highest level at WSU and I’ll admit that’s one of the reasons he was very appealing,” Moos said.
McWashington, who went undrafted, played for five teams (Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Amsterdam Admirals, Edmonton Eskimos and BC Lions) in three leagues and three countries before retiring in 2001 after an Achilles injury.
He earned a master’s degree in education and administration at WSU and worked toward a Ph.D in athletic administration at Florida State before working in higher education at FSU, Tulane and Florida International.
McWashington returned to Seattle nearly three years ago to take a job as an insurance broker at Marsh & McLennan Companies, and was content supporting the Cougars behind the scenes before Moos called.
“I’ve really been thrust back into the spotlight and if you know me, I’ve never really been comfortable with that,” he said. “But it’s been great. I’ve received over 200 calls, emails and texts from people really excited about the program. I’ve immersed myself in everything WSU. I’ve read Mike Leach’s book.
“The outcry of support from Cougar Nation has been phenomenal. I appreciate it.”
McWashington said he isn’t overly concerned about his broadcast team, but worries about the Cougars.
“If I had to predict, I would say they’ll finish 6-6,” he said. “I think offensively they’re going to do some great things. They’ll put up some big numbers. Defensively it could be a struggle early on.
“But I think they’ll put up a lot of points. It should be a lot of fun to watch. I know I’ll have fun and I just hope people enjoy what we’re doing on the radio.”