Detroit King's Sam Washington shines in move to outside linebacker
Detroit — Sam Washington can’t wait to get on the field Saturday night when defending Division 3 state champion Detroit King plays Muskegon at Ford Field to close out the state football finals.
Washington has been Oregon-bound quarterback Dante Moore’s longtime backup, but also played safety during his junior season before getting injured.
There’s a reason Tyrone Spencer has guided King to state titles in 2016, ’18 and 2021, putting players in the right position to succeed, and he has done that again this season moving Washington to outside linebacker.
“We saw that he’s physical and he’s a big kid, he’s like 6-2 and 190," Spencer said. "We were putting him at safety and stuff, then decided to put him at outside linebacker where he’s able to blitz and play the run and he’s having a really good senior year in doing that. I know Wayne State has offered him and he’s a 4.0 kid, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some Ivy League-type stuff because he’s a big, physical kid.”
Washington has gotten in on 39 tackles while recovering two fumbles for King — 9-3 and ranked No. 14 in The News Super 20 — which will be making its sixth state championship game appearance in the last eight years.
“It’s going to be real special to be able to get back to Ford Field,” Washington said. “I played some safety last year at the beginning of the season, actually my first time playing safety last year was our rivalry game against Cass Tech and during that game I ended up dislocating my shoulder, so it had me out for the majority of the season.
“It feels real good to be back on the field and everything because last year with me being out, I got to see how everything worked, so my biggest thing was trying to get back in the groove of how everything goes and get my reps, and get the experience back of being on the field, and it being my senior year I knew I had to step up and take the leadership role and get the job done.”
King’s defense has played well during the postseason, starting with a 41-28 win over a talented River Rouge team, then a 46-15 district final win over Allen Park, a 22-12 regional final win over Birmingham Brother Rice and a 52-17 semifinal win over Mason.
Now, Washington can’t wait for his chance to contribute on the big stage of Ford Field with the state championship on the line.
“This here is going to be real fun because I get to contribute to the team and show the team what I can do, that way the younger guys behind me can see what it takes when their time comes,” Washington said.
“I think Coach Spence, he’s seen my ability to make plays, make tackles and get the job done, so my biggest thing was being consistent to show him that I was the right fit for where I needed to be. I had to tell him that my biggest goal this season was to do whatever the team needed, so we had that agreement.”
With Moore losing the bulk of his receivers from a year ago — Lynn Wyche-El, Chansey Willis, Joseph Williams and Lamont Parks — Washington was part of the new group of receivers during preseason 7-on-7s and then scrimmages.
“Actually, I was doing whatever it was for me to get on the field and with what the team needed, and with most of our senior receivers leaving last year, I knew I was going to have to step up and get the receiver work in, so after practice me and Dante and the other receivers got work in to get better,” Washington said. “I just knew I had to see where I could fit at because we needed guys, so we had to see during the season where we needed to make adjustments.”
Washington played receiver in the season opener, a 44-26 loss at Warren (Indiana) Central, getting a catch before making the move to linebacker.
Washington is proud of this year’s receiver group, which includes three-star senior cornerback Jameel Croft, a Kansas commit, and senior cornerback Jacobe Oglesby.
“I’m really proud of the young guys and the receiving group, and our seniors Jacobe Oglesby and Jameel Croft because they really stepped up and Jacobe and Jameel with them being seniors took on the challenge of having to play both sides of the ball and it takes a lot out of them to do that, to be able to go from one side and turn it on to the next,” Washington said. “And, for the young guys for stepping up because it’s their first time experience of high school football and picking up the pace and everything and they are doing a good at maintaining it and doing what needs to be done.”
Croft has 40 receptions for 727 yards and nine touchdowns, with sophomore Damon Stennis coming up with 17 receptions for 292 yards and three TDs, and running back Sterling Anderson coming out of the backfield to grab 43 passes for 468 yards and six TDs.
Now comes Washington and King’s biggest challenge, trying to slow down Muskegon junior quarterback M’Khi Guy, who has rushed for 1,510 yards and 24 TDs, including 313 yards and six TDs last Saturday in a 49-21 semifinal win over DeWitt.
“He’s real fast and has good agility and doesn’t go down easily, so my biggest thing is to meet him before he gets the chance to break out his full speed and break it to the secondary,” Washington said. “I feel like if I can keep bringing the same message to him, he will eventually give up later on in the game.”
So, what is Washington’s strengths as a linebacker?
“I feel I do a good job of reading my keys, sticking to my script and sticking to my job, so being able to execute what my job is during that play,” Washington said. “I know I can’t be selfish because I know that me being at linebacker, I want to be a headhunter and get to the ball a lot, but sometimes my play is set up for my teammates plays to be made so I have to be unselfish and stay disciplined, that’s all.
“It didn’t take long for me to learn that because the games before I got to linebacker, I watched some of the mistakes that the other linebackers were making so I knew that I can’t make those same mistakes, so being able to stay disciplined and not be selfish is something that I had to do if I wanted to stay there and do what’s best for the team.”
Yes, Washington is a total team player and has helped King earn a plus-17 in the turnover ratio which could go a long way Saturday night in deciding who the state champion will be.
All games at Ford Field
▶ Division 8: Ubly (13-0) vs. Ottawa Lake Whiteford (13-0), 10 a.m.
▶ Division 2: Warren De La Salle (12-1) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (13-0), 1
▶ Division 6: Negaunee (13-0) vs. Grand Rapids West Catholic (12-1), 4:30
▶ Division 4: Goodrich (12-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (13-0), 7:30
▶ Division 7: Jackson Lumen Christi (10-3) vs. Traverse City St Francis (13-0), 10 a.m.
▶ Division 1: Caledonia (12-1) vs. Belleville (13-0), 1
▶ Division 5: Gladwin (13-0) vs. Frankenmuth (13-0), 4:30
▶ Division 3: Detroit King (9-3) vs. Muskegon (11-2), 7:30