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One of the first players out of the locker room after the Rose Bowl last New Year's Day was in a hurry.

His gear clung over his shoulder, Chauncey Washington marched out purposefully, uttering little. It was clear he wasn't in a rush to go out and celebrate USC's 32-18 victory against Michigan.

Two carries, eight yards. It was an ignominious finish to the season for the junior who had pointed to the 2006 campaign in search of redemption for a career that had careened to the wayside.

Washington didn't want to go through it again. His first instinct was to get out, to put his football fate in the hands of the NFL.

USC's running game late in the '06season would have improved if it merely had been productive in fits and starts. Instead, coach Pete Carroll finally turned quarterback John David Booty and receiver Dwayne Jarrett loose to soar past the Wolverines.

That stung the running backs, particularly Washington.

"It was just a frustration thing," Washington said of his hasty exit from a locker room full of players absorbed in celebration. "We didn't run the ball at all and I guess the reason was the coaches didn't think we needed to run the ball to win the game.

"It was like kind of iffy what I wanted to do after the game was over. I had to sit back and think and talk to my dad and talk to coach Carroll and see what the best thing was for me to do."

At 6-foot and 240 pounds, Washington carried an NFL stature for a running back. He also had injuries in his past, like the nagging hamstring pull he lugged around during the 2006 season, and he had yet to endure an entire school year without clearing all academic eligibility hurdles.

As he has throughout his life, he turned to dad.

Charles Washington had already scraped together a year of tuition money to keep Chauncey in school after his grade woes cost him his scholarship.

"We had a deep conversation," Charles Washington said. "I had to really sit down and talk one-on-one, two or three times over the course of the week after the bowl game, because he was upset he didn't play that much.

"I had to lay out what was ahead: He could be the main focus of the team, be the No. 1 tailback if he stayed healthy and kept his grades up.

"For a couple of days, he sat on it, marinated, and came back and said, 'Dad, you know what? I want to talk to you again. I thought about it and you're right."'

Even with the Father Knows Best karma in play, Washington said: "It was real close. But I didn't reach that point where I decided to leave."

Washington rarely appears upset, but in early January, he couldn't hide it.

"He wasn't a happy camper because he was 240 pounds," running backs coach Todd McNair said. "He shouldn't have been happy because he was 25 pounds overweight.

"He could have had a better year (in '06). He got hurt in the summer, didn't get in the best of shape, had to battle injuries the whole year. He couldn't practice too much because of his knee, his hamstring. He knew he had another year in him. To me it was a no-brainer. Come back, heal up, get back in shape and have a better senior year increase his value."

Washington went to work. He actually tried the Subway diet -- no truth to the rumor he was trying to cut in on former teammate Reggie Bush's endorsement money -- before he joined forces with USC strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle, who never really had Washington under his guidance on a full-time basis.

"I found out for athletes, Subway isn't the best thing to eat daily," Washington said, smiling. "Well, it is instead of going out and eating Burger King or something like that.

"For me, I needed to stay away from carbs and eat a lot of protein. Eat a lot of meat, steaks, vegetables, egg whites, oatmeal in the morning. I was basically living at Trader Joe's."

And once again, learning how to deal with adversity.

"You're always missing some pieces," Washington said. "You think you've got it all together but there's always some other pieces and there's always ways to get better on the field and off the field. Coach Carroll teaches us like it's a job. If you have to go out there in the real world, you still have to compete. Office job, whatever you have to do."

Washington competed against himself. And when he arrived at preseason camp, he was leaner than he had been even at SouthTorrance High.

His weight was down to 216 on the day he reported and was faster than ever.

It showed in the team's first scrimmage, when he ripped off a 78-yard run. But in the third scrimmage, a little more than a week before the opener against Idaho, he sprained his shoulder.

Here we go again?

"No, I'm used to it now," Washington said. "If you're a football player, you're always going to have nagging injuries. You've got to be positive aboutit."

So he arrives in Nebraska today ready to join his teammates for Saturday's game with the Cornhuskers. Sophomore C.J. Gable (Sylmar High) will start, but Carroll has already said Washington will get playing time in the firstquarter.

Thursday, he was smiling. The Rose Bowl was hardly a memory for him anymore.

(310) 540-4201



UCLA at Utah,

2 p.m., Rice- Eccles Stadium.

TV: Versus.


2 photos


(1 -- color) Chauncey Washington led the Trojans in rushing with 744 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a junior, but was held out of the '07 opener.

Scott Varley/Staff Photographer

(2) Chauncey Washington led the Trojans in rushing with 744 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a junior, but was held out of the '07 opener.

Scott Varley/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 14, 2007

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