Louisville assistant coach Terrell Buckley goes through a checklist every time he watches high school cornerbacks to determine whether they should be recruited.
Does he make plays?
What type of athlete is he?
Is he tough?
Can he backpedal? Bump and run?
What type of competition does he play against?
Nowhere on that checklist does Buckley look at size. Maybe that is because Buckley rose to great heights himself as an aggressive but undersized 5-foot-10 cornerback at Florida State and in the NFL. He realizes more than anybody that size says nothing about a player.
When he turned on the tape of Trumaine Washington at Miami Killian High, he saw a player who checked all those boxes. His senior year alone, Washington completely shut down the No. 2 receiver in the nation, Ermon Lane, holding him without a catch; he had four interceptions, 50 tackles and two punt returns for touchdowns.
Even better, Washington desperately wanted to play for Buckley, whom he first began following with the Miami Dolphins. There was a little matter of trying to convince coach Bobby Petrino to take him, though.
This would be the only time Buckley ever mentioned Washington’s 5-foot-9 frame.
“When you’re looking at the board and you see a 6-foot corner and you see a 5-9 corner, the guys that are just going by the book, they want to take the 6-foot corner,” Buckley explained in a recent phone interview. “Talking to coach, I walked through why I’d take Trumaine. Do you want to take a young man who’s bigger that’s not productive or do you want to take a guy that’s not as big but is super productive?”
Washington has turned into one of the most productive defensive backs on the Louisville roster as a true sophomore. Already this week, he earned ACC Defensive Back of the Week and Bednarik Award Player of the Week honors after posting a career-high 12 tackles (four for loss), a sack and an interception return for a touchdown in a 41-17 victory over Syracuse.
The four tackles for loss equaled his career total going into the game. Washington now leads the team with three forced fumbles and four interceptions. He ranks second among all defensive backs with 39 tackles.
“Best game of my life,” Washington said in a phone interview this week. “I just felt it that game. I was just out there having fun. It felt good.”
Washington played as a true freshman a year ago, but after the Cards lost their entire starting secondary, he knew this would be his opportunity to make a bigger name for himself. So did the coaching staff.
“It's been fun to watch him grow and get more confident, each year and each game,” Petrino said. “I remember last year when he was out there as a true freshman and was playing extremely hard, but wasn't sure of himself. He’s a very knowledgeable football player now.”
Washington also knew teams would try to pick on him because of his size. Been there, done that.
“When I got to high school, I was one of the smaller but faster players, so I had to use that to my advantage,” Washington said. “I just have to play big against the bigger people, and I’ve always had success doing it, so it brought me all the way up to big-time college football. It’s always been that way.”
It is only now that he has gone through an entire season as a starter that others have started to catch on. But Washington is only getting started.
Buckley says Washington has two more gears to hit.
“Even this last game he just had, I went through it and I found a couple plays in there that he could have made,” Buckley said. “He could have had another interception. He turned the wrong way on a scramble. Now if I find anything, I’m going to congratulate you but we’re about to figure out why you didn’t make that play.”
So if Washington has much more in him, what should we expect for an encore Saturday against Virginia?
“I’m going to go out there and try to make more plays,” Washington said.
He adds with a laugh, “Try to score twice.”