It was 10 years ago, give or take, and the rec league coach needed someone to snap the ball. And, kids being kids, nobody wanted to do anything that didn't involve throwing, running or catching.
So Lydell Washington volunteered. That's how a kid with tailback size (if that) became a center.
Today, he's the leader of Hampton's improved offensive line, which has paved the way for the Peninsula District's best running game and protected a quarterback who hasn't thrown an interception all season. And Washington wouldn't have it any other way.
"Nobody stepped up to do it back then, so I did it," he said. "It's like being the quarterback of the offensive line."
So what if he doesn't have lineman size? At 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, which is what he claims, Washington is smaller than each member of the Crabbers' starting backfield. But he makes up for it with quickness, toughness and instincts.
"It takes a special kid to be a center," said Hampton coach Mike Smith, who early in his career coached a future Hall of Famer in Dwight Stephenson. "The guys at nose guard are taking a whack at you, you have to do the shotgun snap, you have to block. But he does take it seriously.
"He knows it all starts with him. And really, he's an awfully good defensive player, but we don't play him over there much because we can't afford to get him hurt. Believe you me, he'd be a dandy of a linebacker."
Because his sister was in the band, Washington started going to Hampton football games in the mid-1990s when Ronald Curry was around. He has a football that Curry autographed for him when Washington was no more than 5 or 6. And right then, he knew.
"After going to the games with my father, I always wanted to wear a Crabber helmet and uniform," Washington said. "That was my goal, to play for the Crabbers."
Washington played JV his freshman year and then moved up to varsity. As a sophomore, he played mostly special teams. As a junior, he moved into the starting lineup. And this year, he was second-team All-Peninsula District.
For a quarterback, a dependable center is just as important as a possession receiver or a left tackle protecting his blind side. And though Washington is the smallest lineman, that doesn't matter.
"He's strong, and that's an understatement," Hampton quarterback David Watford said. "He's a workout warrior and he runs like a running back. He might not look that big out there, but he makes up for it with his strength and quickness."
Off the field, Washington is a solid student who does little to draw attention to himself.
"You'd have to ask him a question to know he's there," Smith said. "He's very humble, very dedicated and hard working."
Center might not be the most fun position to play, but Washington knows that's where he's needed. Ask him where he like to play if given the choice, he doesn't bite. "Center," he says quickly.
Not one of the glamour positions like quarterback or wide receiver?
"I couldn't leave my line like that," he said. "I have to stick with my line."
It's a solid group — Trei Banks and Troy Garrett at the guards, P.J. Wright and Clifton Moore at the tackles and Washington at center. A year ago, only three teams in the district had a less-productive running game. This year, nobody does.
"Without them," running back Dallas Cogdell said of the linemen, "we couldn't do anything."
Though he's able to handle being a 185-pound lineman in high school, Washington knows the college level is another matter. Some programs are recruiting him, but they will want him to play another position.
"They said I'd be a defensive back with my size," he said. "I haven't played that before, but I can do whatever I put my mind to."
For now, there's only one thing on Washington's mind: Winning a ring. It's been five years since the Crabbers won their 17th state championship, and Washington can think of no better way to exit.
"It would mean everything," he said. "It's a legacy. Tradition never fails, so we're all trying to get a state championship before all the seniors graduate. We want to break all the records and try to get a ring before we graduate.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun