In DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech has one of Big 12's most underrated stars

LUBBOCK, Texas -- After becoming Texas Tech’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1998, DeAndre Washington’s goal for his encore doesn’t sound all that unreasonable.

“I talked to the O-linemen,” Washington said, “and 1,500 yards, that’s our bare minimum. That’s where we’re going. Anything beyond that, we’ll take it.”

That’s not going to be nearly enough for the big fellas.

“That’s his goal for himself,” tackle Le’Raven Clark said. “We have our goal. Our goal is 2,000.”

Coach Kliff Kingsbury laughs when he hears this proclamation. Getting Washington enough touches for 2,000 yards -- in an offense that will throw the ball nearly 50 times a game -- isn’t going to be easy, especially when Tech is four deep at running back. But what’s the harm in dreaming big, right?

For Washington, enjoying his breakout moment amid a 4-8 season was almost bittersweet. The senior enters 2015 as one of the Big 12’s most underrated stars, and he can understand why.

“I think that just comes with the record we had,” Washington said. “But I like it like that. I like being the underdog. It motivates me.”

Washington quietly rushed for 1,103 yards, led all Big 12 backs with 328 receiving yards, averaged a healthy 5.9 yards per carry and didn’t fumble once. Running backs coach Mike Jinks says he couldn’t have asked for much more.

“You’d be challenged to find a more intelligent player at that position in the Big 12,” Jinks said. “He’s an unbelievably tough runner. If you watch how many tackles he broke between the tackles, it’s pretty phenomenal. His elusiveness in tight quarters is special.”

Texas Tech’s staff had no idea Washington was capable of all of that when they arrived in 2013. Back then, Washington was coming off a redshirt year and still recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of the 2011 season. Physically, he wasn’t the same back. He didn’t have the same burst.

But it was the little stuff that started to set Washington apart -- his ability to catch out of the backfield, pick up blocks and recognize when Tech was facing a heavy box. He embraced becoming an all-around back. And once he got rolling last season, Washington’s leadership wowed Jinks.

He took explosive freshman Justin Stockton under his wing. He never worried about sharing carries, only about helping Stockton grow his own confidence.

“He accepted that challenge, stepped his game up but also was able to help mentor that young man,” Jinks said.

Kingsbury points to Tech’s 34-31 win over Iowa State in late November as a reminder of what makes Washington special. The Red Raiders, already 3-7 and ineligible for a bowl, had nothing to play for and fell behind by 10 on the road. They could have folded. Washington wouldn’t let that happen, leading the way with 186 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards and two scores in the comeback.

“The way he played -- even when the season wasn’t going the way we would’ve liked and we were out of bowl contention -- and the way he continued to work and run the football, I think it showed a lot of our team what it means to be a true team player and a true competitor,” Kingsbury said. “That’s carried over into the spring.”

And yet, this spring, Kingsbury and his staff couldn’t be more excited about their full stable of backs. Stockton has bulked up 10 pounds and offers the kind of speed and explosiveness you just can’t coach. Junior Quinton White is a big-play threat who can catch passes. Redshirt freshman Demarcus Felton is elusive in tight spaces. And incoming freshman Corey Dauphine might have the luxury of getting to redshirt.

“I honestly feel we have the best backfield in the conference,” Washington said. “Each guy brings something different to the table. That’s what makes our room so versatile.

"If you ask guys around here, running back is the best position on our team. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

A Texas Tech offense powered by its run game? Yeah, just a little.

“If they stack the box, that’s easy money for us,” Washington said. “I don’t think they want to do that.”