High school football players dream about playing college football at the highest level. Receiving scholarship offers is a blessing. It provides players with the opportunity to fulfill those dreams. Sometimes, however, those dreams can turn into a nightmare.
Take class of 2019 Pahokee (Fla.) High running back Ja'Tarie Washington. He ran for 1,526 yards and 18 touchdowns as an All Palm Beach County First Team performer during his junior season. Washington held offers from Louisville, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Syracuse in addition to several from group of five programs. Other power five schools were monitoring his development including the likes of Florida, Florida State and Oregon. Everything was in place for Washington.
Then, disaster struck. Washington suffered a knee injury that was bad enough to cause all of those suitors to retreat. Suddenly a promising recruitment with many options was devoid of a single one.
"It basically blew everybody away," Pahokee running backs coach Clint Everett said. "He suffered the injury, and you know how coaches are about knee injuries. That was a big situation for most coaches because they didn't know what it was. Being so close to signing day, they didn't want to take that chance."
But one school did not dismiss this case as simply an injury that ruined a promising career. Syracuse assistant Nick Monroe recruits Florida for the Orange and has had a lot of success in the talent rich state. Monroe secured a commitment and signature from Pahokee defensive lineman Latarie Kinsler as part of Syracuse's 2020 recruiting class. Kinsler happens to be Washington's younger brother.
Through Monroe, who has an excellent relationship with the Pahokee coaching staff, Syracuse kept tabs on Washington's rehab progress. Washington wanted to join his brother in Central New York and had to work hard to show the Syracuse staff he had recovered from the injury.
"We've been going hard at it for about a year now," Everett said. "Getting him back into football shape, getting him ready, prepared to go up there (Syracuse) because all along we knew he was going to go up there. We did a lot of rehab, a lot of weight room, a lot of football training just trying to prepare him for this moment he's about to arrive at."
It would have been easy to give up with nearly every option fading away. Washington would not quit, however, determined to fulfill the promise he displayed each week before getting hurt. On Monday, Syracuse announced that Washington had enrolled as a walk-on to the football program. It may not be the path he initially envisioned, but at least he has an opportunity.
"He was like, 'man, at this point, I'm going to be on myself,'" Everett said. '"I know what I can do and I'm going to go prove to the world what I can do on the highest level.'"
Through his rehab and work behind the scenes, Washington looks better than ever according to his former position coach.
"Right now I think he looks two times faster than he was before," Everett said. "Way more confident. I think he's going to get up there and explode. When you feel like people are doubting you and you gave it all up, it gives you that extra motivation to go hard.
"He brings a whole different dynamic to the Syracuse offense. You're going to get a pass catcher, you're going to get a real fast running back. You're going to get a guy who can kick return and get you touchdowns on that. He's a home run hitter waiting to happen. Anytime he gets the ball in his hands, he's ready. He might take it the distance."
Should that assessment prove correct, it will not be long before Washington earns a scholarship.