GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Nick Washington is expected to be Florida’s veteran presence at safety.
The expectation magnified after fellow fifth-year senior Marcell Harris suffered a season-ending torn right Achilles tendon before the start of fall camp.
But Washington is battling to get on the field. A recurring shoulder injury has limited his ability to participate in team drills over the final two weeks of fall camp. True freshman Shawn Davis and versatile sophomore Chauncey Gardner have been taking a bulk of the first-team safety reps while Washington focuses on individual drills.
It’s the latest in a long line of injuries Washington has had to battle with since arriving at UF in 2013.
After enrolling at Florida as a 4-star prospect according to the 247Sports composite, Washington took a medical redshirt as a freshman after injuring his shoulder during practice early in the season and undergoing surgery. He played in two games and spent the following spring undergoing rehab.
“With the shoulder surgery, it’s all about getting back and rehabbing it to where that injury doesn’t happen again,” Washington said. “… There’s some things that you can and can’t do, and there’s certain ways you need to tackle now.”
Washington followed the redshirt season with two relatively healthy years. He saw action in 26 of 27 games and started four games as a redshirt sophomore in 2015. He was a key member of Florida’s special teams units and recovered 2 fumbles on punt returns in 2015.
In 2016, Washington played in the first 10 games, with six starts, before an ankle injury during the LSU game ended his season three games early.
“He will play, don’t get me wrong,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “But as we know he’s been in and out of injuries kind of throughout his career back there.”
Washington’s experience and expertise extends beyond the field, though.
He spends countless hours in the film room. His cerebral mentality adds another layer to the game on top of his physicality.
“He studies the game,” McElwain said. “What he does is he brings that to the young guys on the preparation piece. Now, as we head to the end of the week and now start a day early on our opponent, him really getting with those guys on what to study, how to study and the importance of letting each other know from the communication piece [helps].”
Teammates have noticed.
“He’s a real smart dude,” linebacker Cristian Garcia said. “He knows all the checks, all the coverages. But he can also play ball, so I think he’s kind of the glue back there that’s gonna stick that secondary together. So he’s definitely a vital piece to the defense.”
Sophomore safety Jeawon Taylor added: “[He’s] smart. He’s a great leader. He picks you up even when you’re down. He’s a great guy to be around.”
Now, the goal is to bring the knowledge onto the field — and find a way to stay on the field.
Washington has played behind a star-studded safety group in his Florida career, highlighted by 2015 first-round draft pick Keanu Neal and 2016 second-round pick Marcus Maye.
He wants to add to that legacy in his final year at Florida.
“I feel like I have a lot to do,” Washington said. “I need to make more plays on the ball, make more plays closer to the line of scrimmage. Just make more breaks and, like I said, communicate well with the others. We have a young group back there now and even up front, so communication will be a big thing for me this year.”
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