It's Already Clear Nebraska is Ahead on Name
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Turning the Page on the Short-lived Nebraska-Washington Saga

January 08, 2020

Maurice Washington is officially in the transfer portal. After being dismissed from the program by head coach Scott Frost a week ago, Washington is leaving the school.

As a football team, Nebraska will miss him.

As a program, it won’t.

In the days since Washington was initially removed from football activities last October, I’ve struggled with how to feel about the situation as a whole, about Washington’s willingness to let it get to this point, and about Frost’s handling in tandem with his reluctance to remove a young man's safety net.

Frost’s own sense of morality guided him in this, regardless of what might be said about his decisions. On the surface, that’s commendable.

Kids with checkered pasts or troubled backgrounds need (and, in a lot of instances, deserve) structure. They have to want that structure—an entirely different issue to work around—but they need structure all the same. Washington was no different, and you could hear Frost grappling with that truth every time he spoke about the sophomore running back. Washington has the pure football talent to earn himself a nice career, and a nice life for whatever family he might choose to have, but none of those things are a given.

The charges he still faces represent a serious issue that is not to be glossed over or forgotten about. It’s alleged he held onto a video of an alleged sexual assault, and then used that video to inflict emotional harm to the victim well after the alleged assault occurred.

While his situation was being adjudicated, he was found in possession of a marijuana pipe on campus and cited by UNL police, was twice suspended for first halves during the season, and failed to “show up” for a December court date (he was appearing remotely by phone).

“Listen, Coach [Tom] Osborne was this way,” Frost said back in October. “He wasn't quick to crumple kids up and throw them away. Some of the kids that are in some of those situations, if they're gone and out of this program, that road doesn't lead to very many good places. As long as I'm here, I'm going to try to help these young men as much as I can. 

“That's the promise I make to their parents when I sit in their living room and tell them we're going to try to help them no matter what. There's certain things that they know if they do, I'm not going to help them and they're on their own. But, I want what's best for all these guys, so we're going to try to continue to help them as long as they can be helped.

“There always comes a point where you have to throw your hands up and say, ‘We tried,’ but until then, we want to do what's right by them because I think that's the right thing to do. We certainly tried to do everything we can for Mo, and hopefully it works out well.”

Nebraska simply hit the point where throwing one’s arms into the air was all that was left.

While the football program and the adults leading it might have felt they owed Washington something because he entrusted them with this stage of his life, Washington owed Nebraska something, too. If the Huskers were still willing to extend an olive branch, Washington didn’t seem to appreciate it. If you’re offered a path, doing it your own way isn’t often part of the deal.

Nebraska needed humility and maturity from Washington and got neither.

The overarching sentiment I’ve seen regarding the situation is one of hope. Hope that Washington is able to turn his situation around. Hope that he’s able to show some remorse for what happened, some ownership over his role in it, and some growth as a man. And a hope that those things lead him to be able to fulfill his potential as a very talented athlete.

That’s the part that always makes this kind of situation so tough to tread.

Talking about the Xs and Os feels icky when things bigger than a game are involved, but so much of Maurice Washington, the football player, is intertwined with the handling of Maurice Washington, the man. And to pretend Nebraska won’t miss that football player would be silly. The running back room will feature four freshmen by class and experience next season. It might have just one scholarship upperclassman, depending on what happens with Jaylin Bradley.

Washington, if he wanted, would have had a significant role. He was the kind of mercurial star Nebraska envisioned him being against Colorado last season (77 rushing yards, 118 receiving yards) and provided the kind of make something from nothing magic needed in a backfield that was limited by spotty run-blocking early.

The rushing offense as a whole went from 16th nationally in yards per carry to 60th, the average dropping a full yard year-over-year.

With Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins and Sevion Morrison and Marvin Scott III in the fold in 2020, there is nothing guaranteed for anyone who plays for running backs coach Ryan Held. He will recruit you and then recruit over you. Production one season does not guarantee placement the next; rent is due every day.

Keep an eye on Dedrick Mills. A soon-to-be senior, he ran for 745 yards and 10 scores in 2019, but it never really seemed like he was given the keys to the car. It might take a Devine Ozigbo-like offseason of work from the former JUCO runner to earn a featured role in 2020, but the thing often overlooked with Ozigbo’s 2018 season is it began with him as a No. 3 runner.

It took Greg Bell electing to transfer, and Washington being iffy for Ozigbo to even have a shot to earn his keep.

Guys like Will Nixon and Alante Brown and Wan’Dale Robinson, all receivers belonging to wideout coach Troy Walters’ room, will get sporadic carries from the backfield, but that was going to be the case even with Washington in the picture.

If Nebraska is serious about keeping Robinson’s running back workload down, two of Johnson, Thompkins, Morrison, and Scott stand to gain the most from Washington’s removal, whether they’re ready or not. Frost says Scott, for one, is ready. As ready as a freshman could be. Thompkins’ knee makes him a wild card. Nebraska likes Johnson so much they were hellbent on saving the 2019 season for him to have another year. I like Morrison as maybe the best of the bunch.

An interesting winter, spring, and summer await.

Frost doesn’t need any unnecessary distractions or questions or problems entering a crucial season. Hopefully Washington finds the structure he needs and the second chance everyone deserves. It’s best for both parties, though, that it won’t be at Nebraska.

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