ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Al Washington competed in track meets as a high school senior at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, Dan Bjelac noticed how Washington interacted with other competitors.
Washington talked with the throwers from other schools, and his classmates who competed in other events came to watch the shot put competition. He talked to Bjelac and to other coaches, and asked them for advice. Sometimes he relayed it to those same throwers whom he competed against.
“Al was one of those guys who would reach out to people whom he didn’t know,” said Bjelac, a former track coach and a football assistant at Bishop Watterson. “Al comes across as very genuine, and he’s one of those guys who has a good feeling of relating to people.”
A few years later, that quality lent itself to Washington’s budding aptitude as a college football coach and as a recruiter, first at Boston College from 2012-16 and then at Cincinnati in 2017. He approached people he didn’t know, found common bonds and cultivated relationships with high school recruits, their families and coaches.
He’ll do the same at Michigan. The Wolverines announced the hiring of Washington as a defensive assistant on Friday.
In Washington, Michigan lands a coach who brings youth and energy to its staff. Many know Washington as a strong recruiter with an enthusiastic and engaging personality.
Congrats to @CoachWash56 on the New job at Michigan! Recruited me at Boston College, great coach and great person!
— Maurice Hurst Jr (@mohurstjr) January 6, 2018
“When you recruit, you’re going into schools and you want administrators, teachers and coaches to trust you,” said Mike Golden, Washington’s high school coach at Bishop Watterson from 1999 to 2002. “You want parents to trust you. That’s Al. He’s so genuine.”
From playing to coaching
Washington was a defensive tackle at Boston College (2002-05) who went on to coach the Eagles’ defensive line, running backs and special teams. He helped develop running back Andre Williams into a 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist. The Columbus native also coached at Elon, Slippery Rock, North Carolina State and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
In Washington’s one year at Cincinnati, Jim Kelly Jr., a longtime Bearcats football radio analyst, noticed his energetic nature and how he quickly refined the Bearcats defensive line. Cincinnati allowed an average of 192.4 rushing yards a game, including an eight-game stretch in which it gave up an average of 156.6 rushing yards.
“Not only did he utilize that talent but he really brought it along,” said Kelly, a former UC wide receiver. “Cincinnati started with four or five guys that could play right away, but they needed three or four more players to build their [depth], to spell their starters.
“Some guys who maybe in the beginning of the year weren’t thought to be contributors became contributors. Al did a great job of taking guys that are younger, who show some talent or potential, and developing their talents.”
Whether it was assisting competitors in track or running into a huddle during preseason practices, Washington’s high school coaches saw a future for him as a coach.
“He was one of those guys that was very tuned-in to listening to what you said, and that’s different from most,” Bjelac said. “He’d visualize what you were doing, and he had an attention to detail. And you saw him wanting to help other people.”
Washington’s proclivity for recruiting will help distinguish him on Michigan’s staff.
“His genuine concern for people is going to make him a great recruiter,” said Golden, who coaches football at Delaware (Ohio) Hayes High School. “Al’s personality, coming in with that Michigan brand, that’s a home run.”