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A Reluctant Pair of Eagles : When Engel, Washington Finally Joined Forces, Eagle Rock's Passing Game Soared

November 19, 1987|HEATHER HAFNER

Chuck Engel didn't want to be a quarterback. But if he had to be one, he wanted Manny Washington as one of his receivers.

One problem: Washington didn't want to be a receiver. He didn't even want to play football.

And so the campaign started.

"I kept telling him to come out for football," Engel said. "He kept saying 'next year'. I think he regrets putting it off."

That is because Engel and Washington have teamed to form one of the most successful passing combinations in the City Section. They are Eagle Rock High's equivalent to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Engel, an All-City selection last season, has completed 87 of 148 passes for 1,294 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has five interceptions. Washington, in his first year of football, has 42 catches for 766 yards and has scored 13 touchdowns.

"Chuck looked pretty good in practice," Eagle Coach Dennis Shaw said. "Then after the first few games we knew we had something there."

Washington's success has been just as surprising.

Engel and Washington, who have known each other since the seventh grade, had played on several little league and park-league championship teams together. Washington had decided to concentrate on basketball, and after tearing cartilage in his right knee during a basketball game he didn't want to risk injury on the football field.

At the start of this season, the 5-11, 165-pound wide receiver was particularly wary of returning kickoffs, something that Shaw seems to find amusing.

"He asked me to take him of the kickoff team because he wasn't sure how to run back the ball," Shaw said. "So the very next game we played Huntington Park and he ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns. Then he had one against Lincoln and one against Verdugo (Hills).

"He has all the tools of a good receiver. He has the speed, leaping ability, quickness and concentration."

Those attributes are why Engel enlisted his services. More than half of the 5-10, 182-pound senior's passes have been directed toward Washington. Engel said that his confidence in Washington has grown as the season progressed. And so has the pair's ability to communicate.

Case in point: Washington was being closely defended by the Marshall secondary last weekend. After several short hitch patterns Engel called an audible sending Washington long. But at the last second the defender backed off allowing the short pass.

"I gave him this look, like don't do it, stay with the pattern," Engel said. "And he did exactly that. He said, 'I saw how you looked at me and decided not to do the pattern'. He read my mind perfectly."

The duo also specializes in reading opposing defenses.

Earlier this season, Eagle Rock had a scoring opportunity on the Verdugo Hills three but the play was not brought in until shortly before the snap. Engel called the play and then gave a different set of directions to Washington, who took the pitch and ran three yards for a touchdown.

But their goal-line antics have not always been successful.

In the third game of the season, Eagle Rock drove to within the Franklin five-yard-line. The defensive back was playing Washington to the outside so Engel called a quick-in pattern. Washington was wide open. But before Engel could throw the ball, a blitzing linebacker grabbed his jersey forcing an errant pass that resulted in an interception.

"I didn't think that it was the greatest call," Shaw said. "But it shows you that he's pretty confident."

Confidence that has created success for himself and his teammates. Eagle Rock (5-3) can clinch its second Northern League title with a victory over Hollywood on Friday. The Eagles are hopeful that they can go beyond the first round of the City 2-A playoffs. Last season the Eagles lost to eventual-champion Reseda in the first round.

Eagle Rock had nine players ruled ineligible the week before last season's playoffs began, including most of its starting offensive line.

Engel and Washington said that this season will be different. They sit next to each other on bus on the way to every game and discuss what could happen during the game and what they will do in different situations.

"I guess people think that size is the main thing," Washington said.

"It's also how you work together, though. We know how the other person is and how they will react."

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