After many forgettable seasons, Washington's football program is showing growth

2011-10-20T21:00:00Z 2013-03-15T21:31:20Z After many forgettable seasons, Washington's football program is showing growthBy Ken Karrson kenneth.karrson@nwi.com, (219) 933-4192 nwitimes.com

CHICAGO | Four victories in four years is not the stuff off which dreams of football glory are created.

If that represented the only downtrodden period in Washington High School's gridiron history, maybe it could be dismissed as an aberration. But the on-field trials the Patriots endured between 2007 and 2010 were more like business as usual.

Washington has had football success in the past, just not very frequently. The 1997 squad, for example, went 8-1, but that was one of only four winning seasons produced since 1991.

The situation, however, has begun to change.

The 2011 Patriots won't be heading to the state playoffs, the penalty they must pay for previous bouts of ineptitude. But with a 7-2 record, Washington finished with a rare plus-.500 campaign. The Patriots beat Carver Military Academy 13-0 Wednesday afternoon to finish with a six-game winning streak.

"It's hard to deal with (no playoffs), but it has to start somewhere," senior quarterback John Perez of the Patriots' revival. "I want to come back (in the future) and say, when our guys are fighting for a state championship, 'Yeah, that started with us.'"

A second-place finish in the Public League's Inter-City 2 division likely would earn Washington elevation into the Windy City Conference, where it would then have a chance to compete past Week 9. Even if that doesn't happen in 2012, such lofty ambitions no longer seem beyond the Patriots' reach, something senior lineman Roberto Galan admitted he once didn't think was possible.

"I saw how everybody was just beating us (before)," Galan said. "You put your heart in practice, and knowing in a game that would happen, it kind of brings you down."

Helping to bring Washington up these days is head coach Jimmy Smith and a group of assistants culled from local youth teams, most of whom have ties to the school as former students and athletes.

"I wish I could take all the credit, but I can't," Smith said. "These guys have been the backbone. When they first came in, I said, 'Look, I might be the head coach, but I don't know it all. We work together, and if you have an idea that sounds better than what I come up with, we're going to go with it.'

"It sounds clichéd, but I'm like (former Oakland Raiders owner) Al Davis -- just win, baby."

To Smith, winning takes on many forms. Not only does he desire to see his players succeed on game day, Smith also wants school days to be equally as prosperous.

Toward that end, he instituted a mandatory one-hour study hall each day, where players can get tutoring if necessary and everyone zeros in on the academic portion of a student-athlete's existence.

"I just felt like if I was going to stress education, I had to put my money where my mouth was," Smith said. "Even though it took away from practice time on the field, if a kid halfway through the season is not getting his grades and is ineligible, I'm not going to have him anyway."

As might be expected, Smith's study hall session wasn't immediately met with enthusiasm.

"Nobody likes to study, and some people didn't take it serious," Perez said. "We ended up getting consequences for not taking it serious, and it's been like a library now."

And Patriots players believe there is a definite link between Smith's increased demands for academic achievement and the progress seen on the field.

"Without discipline, the whole team would be out of control," junior linebacker Alfredo Ramirez said. "Education is going to put you somewhere else other than football, so it's all positive."

"It's a great change," Galan said. "Coach pushed us a lot about keeping the grades up and he's helping us focus a lot more. If you work hard in the classroom, why not work hard on the field as well?"

Smith succinctly summed up his scholastics-athletics marriage this way: "The day of the dumb football jock at Washington is over."

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