By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Muskegon senior Caleb Washington has a way of igniting the Big Reds in football.
He ignites them on offense. He ignites them on defense. And he ignites them with his passion for life and the sport.
“He is definitely the spark plug to our team,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said about his two-way standout. “He’s the heart and soul of our defense and our offense. Pound for pound, he’s probably the strongest kid on the team. He’s solid, he’s explosive, he’s tenacious.”
Washington (5-9, 190) will be out front leading the Big Reds (9-1) Saturday in their quest for the District 3 championship against Cedar Springs (9-1). Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Hackley Stadium.
A team captain, Washington has made his mark at fullback and outside linebacker for the Big Reds.
He’s often the first option in Muskegon’s spread veer offense with his combination of power and speed.
“I know at any given time the ball can be in his hands and he can go the distance,” Fairfield said.
Washington has carried 149 times for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns this fall. He’s also caught two passes for 18 yards and a TD and scored 78 points.
There are many bigger high school running backs than Washington, but he produces results with good focus on every carry.
“I have to go out there and show everybody else that I can play just as hard as somebody who is 6-3,” said Washington, who wears jersey No. 2. “I try to go out there and run my hardest. I try to hit the guy as hard as I can, to show people even though I am a smaller guy I can do things a 6-2 or 6-3 player can do.”
Defensively, Washington plays the “Animal” outside linebacker position, where he creates havoc and generates his share of big hits on opponents.
In seven games, Washington has recorded 12 tackles, including three for lost yardage, with one interception.
“He gets after the quarterback,” Fairfield said. “He plays with reckless abandon on the power game. Teams try to run power to the strong side and he blows it up. He will have to have an impact game this week because we have to stop (Cedar Springs’) off tackle play.”
Washington, whose brother A.J. McClanahan is a junior cornerback for the Big Reds, is looking forward to the challenge of stopping Cedar Springs’ Wing-T power offense.
“They look pretty aggressive and their linemen are pretty big,” he said. “Their backs are pretty big. We will have to be more physical than they are. We are working on things to where we can have their offense stopped.”
Off the field, Washington sports an infectious positive attitude. He likes having fun with his coaches and teammates. And he rarely has a “bad day.”
“There’s never a dull moment with him,” Fairfield said about Washington, a student of the game who enjoys studying film on opponents. “You never have to kick him in the rear to get him going. He’s just full of energy.”
Washington wants to play college football and is drawing some interest from Division II schools and Davenport University. He may play a slot receiver at the next level.
Washington, who has a 3.1 GPA, plans to study mathematics and civil engineering in college with the goal of becoming an accountant.
He also wants to continue as a role model for his brother and sisters.
“I want to set the tone for my little brother and sisters to show them things they have to do,” Washington said. “And being a senior, I am going to have to finish strong with my grades and everything. Colleges will see that I came into high school strong and finished strong.”
Washington plans to stay in good physical condition as a member of the wrestling team this winter and a track competitor next spring.
Muskegon suffered its only loss to Mona Shores two weeks ago in a showdown for the O-K Black Conference title. Washington said that loss may be a blessing as the Big Reds continue their quest for a Division 3 state championship.
“It really showed everybody that you’re not unbeatable,” Washington said. “It really opens your eyes, like wow, you got beat by somebody who could be better than you. It means you don’t take any team lightly. That gives us an advantage in the playoffs.”