Last year, Sports Illustrated said the toughest job in all of professional sports was being the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
Connor Washington may still be in high school, but he can relate to the pressure placed on Tony Romo.
Washington, 16, will be a junior this fall, and is the returning starter at quarterback for Stephenville High School. That means following in the footsteps of elite prep signal callers Kevin Kolb, Jevan Snead, and Kody Spano among others.
Eight Stephenville quarterbacks have gone on to play in NCAA Division I in the last 20 years, the most recent being Spano to Nebraska after the 2007 season. Four of those quarterbacks - Branndon Stewart in 1993, Glen O’Dell in 1994, Kelan Luker in 1998 and Kendal Briles (did not play QB in college) in 1999 - won state titles.
Washington knows those are big shoes to fill.
“I know the expectations for a quarterback in Stephenville are definitely high,” Washington said. “But I know what I can do and what my teammates can do. Whatever happens, I know I’ll be alright.”
Being one of the great Stephenville quarterbacks is something Washington has dreamed about since he was a young kid.
“The one’s I remember watching were Kevin, Jevan and Kody, and I’ve worked some with Kelan. It’s been pretty cool seeing all of them go on to play in college and seeing Kevin in the pros,” he said. “Getting to fall in their footsteps here is a big honor. Growing up, I always watched them and wanted to play like them and now I finally get to.”
While many believe Washington will be the next great Stephenville signal caller, some would say he already is. He helped the Yellow Jackets to a district championship while completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,246 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
But Washington, who was just 15 all of last season, says he can do more.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going into (last season),” he said. “Now I know what to expect. I can say with a lot of confidence that I’ve grown up a ton since the start of last year. Going to the playoffs helped big time.”
Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie agrees the quarterback has grown a great deal since the start of last season.
“Connor’s a warrior, no doubt about it,” Gillespie said. “Last year we kind of threw him into the fire and he handled everything in stride and ended up having a great year. Seeing him continue to develop is going to be a real treat the next two years.”
Gillespie says it’s intelligence, maturity and drive that separate Washington from many other talented high school quarterbacks.
“Connor is very intelligent and he carries himself so well,” Gillespie said. “He wants to be great, and he doesn’t just want it, he’s willing to do the work necessary to be great. He’s everything you could ask for in a quarterback.”
Regardless of how much is expected of him by coaches, fans and even teammates, Washington says the most pressure comes from himself.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I take the responsibility any time we mess up on offense,” Washington said. “I’m the quarterback, I have to be that type of leader. Understanding that and being willing to accept that definitely helps me.”
And he knows that such pressure isn’t only put on him, but on the entire team.
“Expectations are definitely high for all of us because this is supposed to be our year,” he said. “Aledo knocked us out in overtime last year then beat everyone else up pretty good and won state. Hopefully that can be us winning the state championship this year.”
Washington says he will never forget the playoff loss to Aledo.
“First of all it was in Cowboys Stadium,” he said. “But it was also a great game by both teams. I want to put it behind me in some ways, but I can’t. There is a lot to learn from that game that can help us moving forward.”
For now, Washington will take what he’s learned and apply it during two-a-days, which begin for the Yellow Jackets at 7 a.m. Monday.
“I’m definitely ready to get back to work,” he said. “Once football’s over, you would think it would be time to relax, but when you work as hard as we do in the off-season, you’re just eager to get back on the field.
“We’re all pumped,” he continued. “We all love the game and are ready to get started.”