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Mike Washington kept quiet in warmups before a matchup between Cicero-North Syracuse and Utica Proctor in the Class AA finals in the Carrier Dome last fall. Just three weeks prior, Utica had blown out C-NS 32-0, and he wanted revenge.
But the matchup with Utica was also personal for Washington. As a promising sophomore, Washington lived in the city and attended Utica Notre-Dame High School, until he transferred to Cicero-North before the start of his junior season, in hopes of “playing on a bigger stage with stronger competition,” he said.
Washington torched Utica early and often in Class AA finals, sprinting for three 50-plus yard touchdowns against his former town’s team and helping the Northstars secure their third consecutive sectional title. Washington also won MVP honors.
Yet entering his junior year at Cicero-North Syracuse, Washington’s college football hopes didn’t seem likely to extend beyond high school. The then-wide receiver had no offers to play at the Division I collegiate level. Head coach Dave Kline was dissatisfied with the Northstars’ running back at the time and held an open tryout within the team to see if someone could better fill the position. There, Washington displayed his 6-foot-2-inch frame and 4.5 40-yard dash speed, and after CNS began the 2019 season 1-2, Kline made a switch.
“Running back complimented my talent, it was a really good fit for me,” Washington said.
In his first game at running back, Washington had 18 rushing attempts for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Washington’s switch to running back became permanent, and C-NS finished the season in November with an 8-4 record with Washington’s near 1,400 rushing yards and 14 TDs leading the way. By the following January, he had received his first offer from Colorado State. Since the offer from the Rams, Washington has received 15 more, including interest, though no offer, from Syracuse. But Washington, who did not want to be far from home, committed to Buffalo on July 25.
“The school gave me a call last week stating I have a chance to get on the field next season,” Washington said. “And now I will be graduating in January from CNS to attend Buffalo early.”
Football didn’t always come easy to Washington. At 7 years old, Washington’s father asked him if he wanted to play football. For years, Washington played football and boxing, until he made the full-time switch to football. As a Pop Warner player, Washington needed to adjust to the speed of the game.
“When I was little, people would make fun of me for saying I can’t catch, I can’t run, I’m not fast. I was looked down upon,” Washington said. “Now those same people are saying ‘Congratulations.’”
Last season, Kline and C-NS’s offense “ran through” Washington, Kline said. He averaged almost 15 carries a game for the Northstars. The heavy workload, however, was not a problem for Washington despite it being his first season at running back.
“I want the ball. I take care of my body to create endurance: stretching, icing and resting,” Washington said. “I will do whatever it takes to secure the win for my team.”
Washington delivered on that promise in some of the biggest games of the year and said the last three games of the season were his three best all year. That’s when he began to feel like a natural running back, he said.
He combined for 640 yards and six touchdowns over the Northstars’ three playoff wins. But, Washington and his C-NS teammates “ran out of steam,” he said — losing in the Public High School Athletic Association West Semifinals last year against McQuaid Jesuit High School. Yet the defeat set the stage for an unprecedented offseason for Washington and the rest of his teammates.
“We know we can get there again. We have lifted every day with no days off,” Washington said. “I love the grind. There are a lot of nights behind closed doors with my trainer putting in extra work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the start of high school football in New York until March, which could potentially end Washington’s high school football career. Washington, as of now, is graduating from C-NS in January and attending Buffalo early, which would conflict with the season’s start date. He’s contemplating competing in the delayed season and is in constant discussion with his family and coaches.
But even if Washington has played his last game for C-NS, he’s still left his mark on the program and his coaches.
“Mike is a quiet, unassuming kid who is explosive and disciplined,” Kline said. “He is a real shy kid off the field who leads by example through hard-work.”
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