ATHENS — Georgia tight end Darnell Washington readily admits he didn’t do a lick of blocking as a 5-star recruit coming out of Desert Pines High School in the 2020 recruiting class.
“In high school, I didn’t block at all,” Washington told reporters this week. “Let’s be real.”
As a junior, that is now Washington’s calling card. Fellow giant Amarius Mims called Washington a freak. Brock Bowers lights up when discussing Washington’s blocking prowess.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart can’t seem to stop praising Washington and how he has grown as both a player and a person.
“The best thing about Darnell is that he has been working so hard,” Smart said. “You see it usually in year three in guys where you go, ‘Wow, that guy has matured. That guy has practiced. That guy knows how to push himself’. And they start thinking if they go hard during the week, the game will be easy. I’ve seen more of that out of Darnell this year, and you are able to see that during the game. He doesn’t get tired, he pushes and makes plays.”
Washington’s playmaking ability isn’t just limited to taking defenders out of bounds. He’s also proven to be quite a weapon with the ball in his hands. He’s hurdled multiple defenders to this point in the season and while he has just five receptions so far this season, he’s second on the team in yards per catch at 16.2. That comes after a sophomore season where nine of his 10 catches went for first downs and the tenth was a touchdown in the loss to Alabama.
Given Bowers’ presence on the team, Washington is always going to be a bit overshadowed as a pass catcher. Washington himself recognizes this, knowing Bowers is simply built different than most tight ends.
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Washington has become a much more consistent player for the Georgia team this year. The Bulldogs live out of two tight end sets, as Georgia prefers to have Washington on the field rather than a third receiver.
It helps that Washington has so far been able to avoid the injury bug after he missed multiple games during his freshman and sophomore seasons. At the start of fall camp, Smart proclaimed the junior tight end was in the best shape of his life.
Helping Washington just as much as the physical transformation though, is how much he has grown off the field. For as much as we talk about Washington and other players, it’s worth remembering he’s still just 21 years old.
“One thing that helped me improve is having a family at a young age, so I had to mature to get used to everyday life,” Washington said. “The focal aspect is going against older guys with how mature they are. When we’re at practice we have fun, but at a high school practice, you’re on the sidelines not paying attention, joking around. Here if you’re joking around on the sideline Kirby will get on you.”
Washington’s young daughter is a motivating force in his life. He wants to provide for her and football is absolutely an avenue to do that.
That worldview also translates to what Georgia wants from its football players. Washington understands that not everyone can be the No. 1 option on the offense. He’s clearly bought in to the idea of playing for something much bigger than himself.