It’s a scenario that might seem daunting to many high school football players — turning down multiple Ivy League programs and a handful of scholarship offers to become a preferred walk-on with an uphill battle just to see the field.
For ESD quarterback Seth Washington, however, the decision to pass up safer options to pursue a dream is simply the latest challenge in a football career filled with them.
He did a risk-reward analysis before verbally committing to the University of Tennessee, where he will compete for playing time in the prestigious Southeastern Conference. And he concluded that he simply couldn’t pass it up.
“The opportunity came along, and I felt like it will be the most challenging,” Washington said. “I wanted to take that on.”
Although his decision won’t be finalized until National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Washington plans to turn down the chance to play football at Brown and Cornell, as well as full scholarship offers from North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico State, and others.
Washington visited the Tennessee campus in Knoxville last spring, and then returned for an elite camp during the summer. He developed a rapport with the coaching staff to the point he agreed to become a preferred walk-on, which means that he will enroll at Tennessee as a non-scholarship athlete next fall (although he’s likely to earn scholarships for academics).
In such scenarios, the expectations are lower that he’ll become a contributor on the field, but that perception doesn’t bother Washington. After all, the dual-threat quarterback has proved doubters wrong before.
“I have faith in myself,” Washington said. “It kind of adds a chip on your shoulder. People might not expect a lot out of you, but that’s motivating to me.”
Washington was on the brink of quitting football before he transferred to ESD from McKinney
Boyd prior to his junior year. He didn’t feel his hard work was paying off.
“Coach [Richard] Williams came along and gave me this opportunity,” Washington said. “As soon as I came over here, I felt like I was being watched not to be criticized, but to be uplifted. Our mindset changed my whole perspective on football.”
After developing a chemistry with ESD quarterbacks coach Seneca Wallace and with standout teammate Nakeie Montgomery, Washington shined as a junior, throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 33 touchdowns while leading the Eagles to an SPC runner-up finish.
“There was an instant bond with the coaching staff and with his teammates,” Williams said. “He always plays with such a high intensity level.”
The college offers came pouring in after that, while Washington spent the offseason attending camps and showcases across the country. He continued to refine his skills working during twice weekly sessions with acclaimed passing guru Kevin Murray, whom he’s known since eighth grade.
“Everything I thought I worked so hard for started to fall into place,” Washington said. “For a while, it didn’t look like that was going to happen.”
Washington was primed for a senior season that built on all that momentum — until he broke his left wrist during the first possession of the season opener in August. That sidelined him for the next six weeks, and some colleges backed away, even though the injury was on his non-throwing hand.
Washington bounced back, however, and set an ESD school record with six touchdown passes in his final game — a 54- 14 win over rival St. Mark’s on Oct. 28.
“It was almost traumatic,” he said. “My senior year was going to be a great season, and that changed a little bit. But I came back with the same mentality.”
Along the way, Washington learned the politics of the recruiting process. But he’s confident that he has a bright future with the Volunteers, who routinely draw more than 100,000 fans for home games against some of the nation’s top teams.
“I haven’t gotten the same looks as other kids,” Washington said. “But right now, I can’t think of a better situation.”