Mike Washington detests labels, but he lobbed a few at himself.
“Just a nerd, bookworm and tech geek,” he said.
What you see is what you get with Washington, and that means interesting conversation and a truly dedicated football player. In a 40-minute interview, Washington gladly discusses football but seems to open up more when the topic changes to nutrition, culture, history and books.
He is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the human body and what he puts into his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame to get the most out of it. The Spokane Shock wide receiver follows a disciplined approach to taking care of his body – before, during and after practices and games.
“It’s my most prized possession,” said Washington, who leads the team with 106 receptions, 1,356 yards and 23 touchdowns. “This arena game will age you because of the surface we play on and the walls. My money-maker is my speed and my legs.
“I’m not here to play around. It’s football only and I still have dreams and aspirations.”
And he has a plan, a strict diet, endless ice bath sessions and everything from green tea to yoga to keep his body in excellent condition. It started when he was at the University of Hawaii, taking a course on research methods. He watched a documentary on processed and genetically modified food.
“I had no idea what I’d been eating my whole life,” Washington said.
Soon he was studying nutrition and adhering to a “plant-based green diet.” No red meat or poultry. He’ll occasionally have salmon or tuna, but goes to great lengths to know where, when and how it was caught. It ticks him off that he can buy two cheeseburgers for 99 cents but a pound of broccoli is 3-4 times more expensive.
Washington puts together protein shakes with fruit and berries. When wings are delivered to the practice facility there’s a separate plate containing a salad for Washington. When bratwursts and hot dogs arrive on the table, Washington’s lunch consists of veggie hot dogs.
“It has his name on it and nobody touches it,” receiver Adron Tennell said. “One time somebody touched it and he got crazy.”
On the team’s bus trip to Portland last weekend, Washington packed meals with rice, tofu, egg whites, vegan strips and a plate of romaine lettuce.
“He’s a professional,” quarterback Erik Meyer said. “He trains that way, eats that way and plays that way.”
Washington says he’s been “married” to post-practice ice baths since his freshman year at Hawaii. The 27-year-old missed two games earlier this season with a tender hamstring but he still returned quicker than most with a similar injury. It was the first games he’s missed due to injury since high school.
Washington watches an inordinate amount of video on his computer and phone, trying to learn opponents’ tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.
“AO (coach Andy Olson) will make a joke when we’re watching film, ‘It’s OK to laugh,’ ” Washington said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I’m just watching.’ ”
Washington’s dad was in the Army for 20-plus years and the family moved quite a bit. He’s lived in Germany, Japan and all over the U.S. He’s been a keen observer at each stop and was particularly fascinated by the way of life in foreign countries.
He rarely watches TV, and when he does it’s probably a CFL or AFL game. He’s bummed that his new Xbox isn’t working but it allows him more time to study video and read books. His reading list ranges from medical studies to African history.
“It’s a lot of bullcrap on TV,” Washington said. “You see all these reality shows. Even SportsCenter is getting out of hand. It was nothing but highlights but now it’s about somebody’s twitter page. I just chose to turn it off. TV can be good, it can be entertaining but when you watch it for a long time your brain shuts off.”
Washington shares opinions with teammates, but only if they inquire first.
“He’s fun to be around,” Tennell said. “Some of the stuff he says, I’m like, ‘Mike, tell it to me in English now.’ ”
Washington says he just wants to be informed and well rounded. In football, he wants to do everything in his power to reach his potential.
“He’s a class act,” Olson said. “Just a model athlete for an organization.”