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 BY JEFF FALK

 COLLEGE PHOTOS COURTESY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI UNIVERSITY

  He didn’t always have one, but at some point Khalique Washington developed a plan. It was calculated, well thought out and realistic.

 Yeah, there was some execution required.  But you’ve got to love it when a plan comes to fruition.

  Washington, a 2017 graduate of Lebanon High School, is Division One University of Mississippi’ newest offensive lineman. He arrived in Hattiesburg a few months back via a junior college stop in Dodge City, Kansas.

 And while Washington’s journey hasn’t been all that arduous – all that difficult – it has been life-altering. ‘Lique is a different person than the one who left Lebanon in the fall of 2017.

 “I had an incredible offensive line coach at Dodge City,” said Washington, by phone from Hattiesburg recently. “He taught me the game. I feel like my football IQ got better. He taught me looks and what to look for, things you don’t look at in high school. I feel like the experience really helped me.

 “As a person, I feel like I matured a lot,” continued Washington. “You go from being in your hometown to being a little fish in a big pond. You’re just a dude from Lebanon. But it helped me grow and understand a lot.”

 At Lebanon High, Washington was a big, talented athlete who played on the Cedars’ football, basketball and track and field teams. He competed in the Big 33 Classic in Hershey following his senior season, and possessed the athleticism to attract the interest of some major college programs, but not the grades.

 That’s where Dodge City Community College in Kansas came into the picture. It’s a place where student-athletes like Washington go to get straight academically and to hone their football skills.

 “That’s the thing,” said Washington. “In high school I was speaking to a lot of schools. But I didn’t have the grades. I went to (college football) camps and they liked me. But I had to take the junior college route.

 “Coach (Bob) Norman knew a guy at Dodge City,” Washington continued. “Coach (Nick) Watt really pushed me a lot. Coach (Gerry) Yonchiuk came to me and put the idea in my head. I wanted to try something different and get out of the state.”

 Washington put in his time at Dodge City, kept his nose to the grind stone for two seasons and did what was asked of him. But he also discovered somethings about himself, and developed a better work ethic.

 “It was an experience in my life that I’ll never forget,” said Washington of his time at Dodge City. “I had highs and lows, but it was just different. It’s nothing like Lebanon. I’m glad I did it.

 “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a doubt,” added Washington. “But I always believed in myself and had the confidence in myself. I just had to get noticed for what I can do, on and off the field.”

 At 6-5, 320-pounds, Washington certainly has the size to play major college football. But he also moves well and has underated quickness for a man his size.

  After he graduated from Dodge City, Washington received interest from ten or 11 major college programs, from across the country.

 “I got hooked up with Southern Miss,” said Washington. “It was the third offer I received. I got on the phone with Coach, and we talked.

 “For me, when it was time to choose, it wasn’t really hard,” Washington added. “I wanted to get the most experience that I could. But I wanted to go where I was needed and wanted. I felt like I could fit in there. I always wanted to play against the best and show what I can do.”

 It’s only the spring, the start of the 2019 season is five months away and a lot can happen in the interim, but it seems Washington is adjusting and fitting in well at his latest stop. Washington has been working with the Golden Eagles’ first-team offense and is currently listed as the starting right tackle on Southern Miss’ depth chart.

 “Oh man, I’ve only been through a spring so far,” said Washington. “The one thing I can tell you is that in junior college, there’s some real good guys. But in Division One, everybody’s ‘that guy’. It comes down to the little things. If you don’t take a first step, you lose a rep. I’m still growing and learning.

 “It’s the spring and we have a couple of guys returning,” continued Washington. “We also have a couple of guys injured. I really don’t know where I am in the depth chart. But I’ve been working with the first string at right tackle.”

 While Washington continues to refine his technique and learn the nuances at right tackle, he’s also familiarizing himself with other positions along the offensive line. It’s called ‘versatility’  – a key element to competing at the higher levels of the game.

 “When you leave high school, you realize how important playing all the positions is,” said Washington. “That’s something I learned at junior college. I feel best suited anywhere along the offensive line, as long as I’m not snapping the ball.

 “I need to improve on my flexibility,” Washington continued. “I’m still working on my IQ of the game. There’s a lot I still need to learn. And I want to get stronger.”

 From Lebanon to Dodge City to Hattiesburg, Washington appears to be on the right track. But there is one final stop in the progression.

 What it all comes down to for Washington is what he’s willing to do to get what he wants.

 “With the short-term goals, I want to continue to be a student of the game, be a starter and be all-conference,” said Washington. “In the long term, I want to do it for two seasons. In the long term, I want to get a shot at the NFL. But I also want to get my degree in criminal justice.

 “It’s going to have to come with work,” added Washington. “I’m going to have to work on my craft and work on my game. No one’s going to give you anything. You’ve got to work for it.”

 Lebanon has struggled at times on the football field over the years, but the Cedars have produced their fair share of players who have gone on to the next level. Perhaps more than any other Lebanon County scholastic football program.

 In many ways, Washington is simply carrying on that tradition.

 “I’m going to say I decided to play college football at the end of my last high school season,” said Washington. “All my life I played basketball. It was my first love. But as I got older, I kept getting bigger and I thought I had a better chance of going football.

 “I’d say it was always in me,” Washington added. “But I don’t think I always worked hard. Now I realize how important hard work is. It’s something you can develop, but it’s something that’s always been in me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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