A reporter was searching for a comparison by which the sporting public could appreciate quarterback Marty Washington and the impact he made this year on the overlooked world of lower-level college football.
He asked Washington whether he was the Division II version of Charlie Ward--the Florida State quarterback, arguably the most exciting player in NCAA Division I. It was a topical question, because it came two days before Ward received the Heisman Trophy.
But it was a setup, a sucker punch designed to make the former Quartz Hill High and Antelope Valley College player stumble with his words and admit he's not \o7 that \f7 good.
Washington leaped at it, however.
"I am," Washington said, chuckling confidently.
Washington is used to saying \o7 I am\f7 , just like he's used to hearing people say \o7 he's not.\f7
He's not big enough.
He's not durable enough.
He's not good enough.
Yet Washington passed for 5,018 yards and 40 touchdowns at Livingston (Ala.) University.
Both are records at Livingston that Washington set in only 17 games.
Those are impressive numbers, but they would have been even more spectacular had he not played with injuries, he said. But he has played with injuries nearly every season since his sophomore year of high school.
So when Washington, 23, greets skepticism about his ability to play in the NFL with \o7 I will\f7 , he admits that certain conditions must precede his arrival. One, he needs to be healthy. Two, he probably needs to play in the Canadian Football League first.
"I'm probably going to have to make that move like (Warren) Moon did," said Washington, referring to the Houston Oilers' quarterback who played in the CFL before joining the NFL. "I'll make my way to the NFL sometime."
No chuckles here. He's serious. So was Craig Howard, Livingston's interim coach, when he said, "I've told everybody I've talked to he has the talent to play in the NFL. And if he doesn't get a shot, he'll tear it up in Canada."
After breaking several school records for passing and total offense, Washington appears destined for the CFL. While some NFL teams have shown curiosity about him, several CFL teams--including the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the British Columbia Lions and the Calgary Stampeders--have watched Washington in person.
"From what I saw, (Washington) can throw the ball all day," said Paul Jones, Winnipeg's director of scouting. "He's got a pretty decent arm. But I can't tell you a lot more until I work him out."
Washington (6 feet, 190 pounds) has been productive at every turn in his career. In two seasons at Quartz Hill, he passed for 3,676 yards. He headed to Grambling State to play for the legendary Eddie Robinson but quickly withdrew because Grambling was running an option offense and he didn't agree with some of Robinson's philosophies.
He returned to Lancaster, where he passed for 3,050 yards and 28 touchdowns in two seasons at Antelope Valley College--after which he was recruited by Wisconsin. But the notion that he could have been playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 doesn't faze Washington for one good reason.
"They didn't throw the ball and they recruited me as an athlete," Washington said. "I ain't no option quarterback. Just pure passing."
He ultimately chose Livingston--which plays in the Gulf South Conference, probably the toughest in Division II--because the Tigers respected his passing ability. And he rewarded them by breaking 19 Livingston records.
Among them are: pass completions in a game (42), season (221) and career (379), yards passing in a game (534), season (3,062) and career (5,018) and touchdown passes in a game (seven), season (26) and career (40). He set all his single-season marks this season.
Howard said Washington's downfield vision is such that he sees things others don't, and he's got the arm to throw the ball anywhere.
"Marty can just about throw it from here to Los Angeles," said Livingston sports information director Dee Outlaw, who has seen the Tigers play since 1971. "He's got the strongest arm I've seen in this conference since Dieter Brock."
But it also was Washington's ability to improvise within the Tigers' run-and-shoot offense that draws the loose comparison to Ward.
Washington has been timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash and he used that speed and scrambling ability to help set an NCAA Division II career record of 306.6 yards of total offense per game.
Some of his feats were amazing--he rolled up 591 yards and seven touchdowns in one game. And his career numbers speak for themselves--he was responsible for 47 touchdowns in his 17-game stint as the Tigers' quarterback.
"He's probably the most exciting player ever to play at Livingston," Howard said.
Professional scouts know about Washington's accomplishments, but they also know he played for a bad Division II team (the Tigers finished 2-7-1), he is short for a quarterback and he seems injury prone.