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Washington Is Pierce's Field General

Quarterback from Reseda High hopes to help Brahmas turn fortunes around this season.

August 26, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Jamaal Washington sits on a swivel chair, his feet tapping the ground rhythmically, in unison. A habit, he says, not a nervous twitch.

No one would blame Washington for being a little edgy, if that were the case. After all, he's the quarterback at Pierce College, where happy feet came with the survival kit for quarterbacks the last few years.

But Washington said those days are over. He's convinced the Brahmas, doormats in the Western State Conference for longer than the Surgeon General deems healthy, are about to turn things around.

"There's a whole different vibe on the team this year," Washington said. "Last year, we had a lot of players who were about themselves. Guys were selfish. If it wasn't their way, it was no way."

So second-year Coach David Banuelos asked the me-myself-and-I bunch to get out of the way and leave guys like Washington tending to the task of helping rescue a program that has won five games since 1994.

"He's played a huge role [in the rebuilding]," Banuelos said. "He never missed a practice in January, the spring and the summer. He's led by example."

Washington, 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, is not vociferous or flashy. He prefers quiet time at home in Tarzana watching football on TV or hanging out with his girlfriend, Aimee, rather than party-hopping. His approach on the field is to produce, not pontificate.

Much of it is because of maturity. Washington, 21, was out of football and school for two years after graduating from Reseda High in 1997. Among other things, he worked unloading trucks for a shipping company, carting off enough boxes and crates to make him rethink his career choice.

"Those jobs made me want to get back in school," Washington said. "I wanted to get back on the field and do something I enjoyed."

It wasn't much fun at times for Washington last year. He was pounded while scrambling in the first game, a 40-27 loss to San Diego Mesa, and suffered a mild concussion. His back hurt for much of the season and, to top it all, the team struggled to a 1-9 record.

Still, Washington passed for 1,940 yards and 14 touchdowns and averaged 17.6 yards per completion, best in the WSC.

One of his best games came in a 59-20 loss to Canyons, when he passed for 374 yards and two touchdowns.

"He reads the keys and he understands defensive coverages and how to beat them," Banuelos said. "His athleticism takes him to an elite class. He has a strong arm and he's very mobile."

Several Division I schools know about the elusive Washington. Banuelos said Arizona, Baylor and USC are among those showing an interest in Washington.

"They are serious about him," Banuelos said.

Washington honed his skills at Reseda after playing junior varsity one year at El Camino Real. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, but chose busing to Hale Middle School in Woodland Hills when a friend who attended El Camino Real "told me about the schools in the Valley."

The family moved to Reseda and Washington led the Regents to the City Section 3-A championship in 1995, his junior year. He passed for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns, and capped his prep career with 854 yards passing and six touchdowns the following season.

Then he left football.

"I missed it," Washington said. "I like the thrill of playing in front of people and making the crowd go ooh and ah.

"I just wanted to come out to Pierce and get an opportunity to play. I figured the hiring of Coach Banuelos would be a turning point. I never looked at the reputation the [football program] had."

It's a reputation Washington and the Brahmas want to shake.

"This is going to be a very, very exciting year," Washington said. "We got players who can make things happen."

There's reason to tap those feet and click those heels.

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