The whispers reached Carroll Washington III like a game of telephone. Some said the Edmondson grad had gone to trade school. Another rumor placed him at a Division II university in Pennsylvania.
Speculation on the whereabouts of the quarterback who, as a sophomore, led the Red Storm to the 2006 Class 2A state football championship, almost always boiled down to this:
Whatever happened to Carroll Washington?
During the two years after Washington graduated from Edmondson in 2009, the short answer to that question was working out, taking classes at Baltimore City Community College and wondering where he went wrong in his quest to play Division I football.
"It actually was so heartbreaking that I thought about walking away from the game of football," said Washington, 21. "It really took a toll on me."
But today, everyone in Baltimore who followed Washington's athletic exploits in high school and wondered what became of him now has an answer. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback, who spent the past two seasons at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif., has signed a letter of intent to play football at Arkansas.
"It's a great thing," said Dante Jones, Washington's coach at Edmondson. "It's a story you can use with Carroll to help other kids do that. If you don't take care of your books, you don't realize how hard you have to work. But if you keep pushing and keeping on it, you can make it through."
Talent was never a question with Washington. An All-Baltimore City first-team selection in 2006, Washington received plenty of inquiries from BCS-level programs as a defensive back and wide receiver. But his recruitment never took off thanks to an essentially untouchable transcript.
"Grade-wise, his options were limited," Jones said. "The interest was high. But he was unable to pursue some of those avenues."
So as classmates went off to college, Washington stayed in Baltimore, working out at his old high school. He took classes at BCCC and tried out for the Lackawanna (Pa.) College football team in spring 2010. He was invited to join the roster in the fall, but an issue with his financial aid papers prevented him from attending.
In October 2010, Washington was hanging out with a friend who had earlier been at a shooting range. The friend started drinking, and Washington said he took the clip from the gun and put it in his pocket. Later in the day, Washington was pulled over by police, who searched him and found the clip. He faced charges for possessing ammunition and disorderly conduct, but those charges were later moved to the inactive docket, essentially dropping the case against him.
Washington said the incident taught him to "just be more aware of my situation. I know that it was a mistake. It was a well-learned mistake. It was a great learning experience, I can tell you that much."
With another school year under way and no college to call home, Washington moved past his legal issue by continuing his workout regimen. He also began to look into football opportunities closer to home.
"'You still going to play football?'" Washington recalled his friends asking. "I was up at the [Towson Mall] one time and told one of my friends that I was going to Bowie State University. He just gave me this look like, 'Bowie State University?' I knew he thought I'd be somewhere bigger by him saying that. That just made me realize that I was throwing away an opportunity there and that I've got to do something bigger than this."
Nearly 3,000 miles across the country, former Edmondson cornerback DeAndre Green was emerging as a D-I prospect at Hartnell. Green convinced Washington to send his highlight film to Panthers coach Matt Collins. With Green and former Cardinal Gibbons fullback/linebacker Kiero Small already in the fold, Collins had a favorable impression of Baltimore players. Washington's film sealed the deal.
"He's a pretty athletic guy," Collins said. "When people can run like he can, turn your hips like he can, a lot of it is just refining tools and getting some quality technique. … We knew he was going to have some opportunities if he did well [in the classroom]. … He's not the tallest of corners, but he definitely isn't short. A lot of times it's hard to find a guy that can match up. That helps him a lot."
Washington claimed a starting spot immediately and earned all-conference and all-region honors after leading the Panthers in interceptions as a freshman. This fall, he and another former Edmondson cornerback, Devante Thomas, teamed up to lead Hartnell's top-ranked passing defense among 70-plus California junior colleges.
Having proven himself on the field — and in the classroom with a B-minus average — Washington, a four-star prospect and the No. 1 JUCO cornerback in the country according to 247Sports.com, finally landed D-I scholarship offers. Arkansas beat out Kansas, Mississippi State, Texas Tech and several others for his commitment.
"The facilities, the environment, the fan base, everything about the whole scenery down there in Arkansas was just, wow," said Washington, who met new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema for the first time last week at Hartnell. "It's just big-time football down there. The fans really support the athletes down there. It's an experience I've never seen before."
In Fayetteville, Ark., Washington will join Small — who redshirted this fall after breaking his foot in September — on the Razorbacks' roster. Both Baltimore natives took a long path to the SEC, but Washington said his time away from the game has benefited him already.
"I did a lot of growing up," said Washington, who will enroll at Arkansas next month. "I had a lot of time to sit down, back track on my life and evaluate the situation I went through. Those two years were pretty much needed. I did a lot of growing up in those two years. Without those two years, I don't know where I would be. I think my head wouldn't be on straight. I'm thankful. That's the only thing I can say."