TEMPE, Ariz. — Ask Marcus Washington why he enjoys playing football, and his face lights up.
“I just love hitting people, so if I have that chance, I’m going to do everything I can to just blow them up,” he said, his smile growing bigger with every syllable he uttered.
Washington is a redshirt senior, and as he enters his final year at Arizona State, he may finally get the opportunity to make a significant on-field contribution.
It just won’t be on offense, where he made a name for himself at Phoenix Desert Vista High School.
Now, the running back-turned tight end is on the other side of the line of scrimmage, where he finds himself in the mix for one of the starting linebacker positions.
“It’s wild,” Washington said. “I’m happy that the coaches are doing everything to help me get on the field. But it’s really wild.
“Just being on defense — on the whole opposite side of the ball — I tend to over-think stuff a lot, so I’m making a whole lot of mistakes right now. But still, at the same time, I’m trying to make sure I get better so I can get that chance to get on the field other than just maybe getting on special teams.”
Washington said he saw the occasional snap on defense during his final year of high school, though he always seemed to play with a defensive mentality — even with the football in his hands.
“As a running back, I’d make sure I tried to hit everyone I can, lower my shoulder,” he said, “and now I’m (on) defense, so now I get to lower my shoulder, wrap up and take someone to the ground or do whatever — throw them — as long as I stop that play.”
It’s that mindset that makes the RB to LB transition a bit smoother, especially for players who might be four, five, maybe even six spots down on the depth chart.
“Because if you really look at the intangibles that most running backs possess, they possess balance, toughness, vision — all the qualities that you look for in a linebacker,” said ASU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson.
In that regard, it’s so far, so good for the 6-foot-0, 223-pound Washington.
“He doesn’t run into blocks a lot of times because he’s used to avoiding people, so he’s going to slip blocks and get to the ball carrier,” Patterson said. “Naturally, he just has some built-in skills that allow him to get to the ball.
“Very explosive blitzer. He’s very strong. Got great balance. Doesn’t get knocked off his feet a lot.”
In 2011, Washington rushed 13 times for 41 yards and a touchdown. They remain his only offensive statistics at ASU, and they’re unlikely to change as a new chapter in his Sun Devil career is about to begin.
“I can’t let what everyone says, good or bad, get to my head,” Washington said of the feedback from his coaches. “The biggest thing is I have to keep advancing in my steps to become the starting linebacker or starting anything, or mostly getting that playing time on the field.”
For four years, Washington waited for his turn. It appears that his patience and, more importantly, his hard work, is finally going to pay off.
“I’m truly always just happy that I’m on the team, a Sun Devil,” he said. “As a little kid, that’s just been my dream — just always going to games with my parents — and so just being given the opportunity to do whatever I can to help our team get to the national championship is good for me.”