ANGOLA – It's pouring rain and the Trine offense, regarded as one of the best in the country, is eviscerating the defense in practice. But linebacker Simeon Washington gives no indication of this. He's hollering and skipping about just before the snap, looking as if he's going to devour the quarterback. Sure enough, Washington blitzes his way through the offensive line, the quarterback loses his grasp on the ball, a fumble ensues, and the defense gets a stop.
Head coach Troy Abbs trots onto the field and yells, “OK, 30-yard line, 30 seconds left, no timeouts,” and his players set up to simulate a late-game situation. Now, the second-stringers are on the field, but Washington is still yelling, running down the sideline and trying to pump everyone up. Again, the slippery ball and the defense lead to a formidable pass rush and an incompletion.
“I've always thought that I played better when I have the high energy,” Washington says afterward. “I feel it makes me better and the team plays better, so I try to get everyone going. I'm jumping around (with) enthusiasm. It brings out the best in me.”
It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who tried to be even keel as he played on both sides of the ball for Central Catholic in Toledo.
“In high school, I played quarterback, so I wasn't always the most enthusiastic person because you've got to settle down,” Washington says. “Now I can do a lot more screaming and yelling and get people into the game. As far as what I used to do (as a quarterback), I was, 'Quiet down, let's go. Let's go score a touchdown.'”
Washington, a senior, found his way to Trine through Chris Hedden, who was the offensive coordinator from 2015 to 2018 and is now coaching running backs at Bowling Green. Hedden had been the head coach at a Catholic Central rival, St. Francis de Sales, from 2012 to 2014, and he'd known Washington for years before that.
“I had a bad ankle injury my senior year and he was always right there,” Washington says. “He'd come up to the hospital and talk to me, not even about recruiting me when it happened. But later, I felt like that was the person I needed to stick with because he always had my back through the rough times.”
Trine, in NCAA Division III, had undefeated regular seasons and won Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles in 2017 and 2018. Washington, who is multifaceted enough to rush the passer, drop back into coverage and run all over the field, was first-team all-conference last year, when he led the Thunder in total tackles (89), solo tackles (41) and sacks (41/2).
“Simeon has been a beast for the last three years,” Abbs says. “He's an extremely fast, physical athlete, and he's somebody you can build your defense around.”
In the season opener Sept. 5 at North Manchester, he had a team-best nine tackles (six solo), as the Thunder defeated Manchester 38-21. Brandon Winters completed 13 of 19 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, and Dylan Dowling rushed 24 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns.
The Thunder plays at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Bluffton, Ohio, against Bluffton University (0-1), which is coming off a 31-6 loss to Wooster.
“The past few years have made it kind of the norm around here with winning. Now it's expected,” says Washington, whose team has won one of three national tournament games in his career. “So, just work hard each and every day and get better one day at a time.”
Abbs admits there are more questions about the defense than the offense, but Washington may have something to say about that – loudly and often.
“He's very fun loving, goofy, but he's not afraid to flip the switch on game day and be that emotional leader that you want,” Abbs says. “He has that hunter mentality when he goes out on the field.”