Riley Washington agreed with teammates on the 1995 Nebraska football team that practice filled in a lot of roles during the national championship run.
“Playing the 1s on the 1s, playing the seven-on-seven passing drills during practice was so competitive, we really didn’t work on conditioning all that much,” said the former Nebraska receiver and record-setting sprinter on the track team. “If you could stay up with the competition in practice, you could stay up with anybody we faced on Saturdays.”
Washington, one of the fastest players on the team, also agreed that even as a receiver, blocking came first, second and third, way before catching passes.
“We knew we were an option team and coach Ron Brown told us it was up to the receivers to set the edge for Tommie Frazier or the backs,” Washington said. “If you got to run a route and actually were thrown to, that was great. But we were there to block.”
Washington explained that receivers often brought in the plays and there was competition among him, Reggie Baul and Brendan Holbein and others to make sure you were in the game if Tom Osborne called a pass play.
“You didn’t want to be the guy coming to the sideline to find out that somebody just went in the huddle to call a pass play, and you didn’t want to be the guy waiting when somebody else was taking in the pass play — there just weren’t that many passes called,” Washington said.
Although he was one of the smallest players on the team at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds — “But more like 160,” he said — he still had to take on defenders such as Phil Ellis, Jay Foreman, Michael Booker and Ed Stewart play after play in practice.
“By the time you survived that, you were ready for anybody,” he said. “I remember Coach Brown talking about how he was talking with the secondary coach from Miami after the 1994 championship about how they were crying, not because they lost but because they were in pain from all the hits we put on them.
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“You have to understand the focus those teams had,” he said. “Nobody could stop us, and I’m like a lot of guys, I still believe we had one of the best teams ever.”
A state record-holder in the 100-meter dash in high school in Chula Vista, California, Washington was recruited by Brown and George Darlington, and visited Lincoln before he even met Osborne.
“When I looked into the academics, I was sold,” said Washington, who graduated in 1997. “They cared about school. A lot of places only seemed to care about football.”
Washington was involved in some controversy in 1995, the same year Lawrence Phillips and others were in trouble with the law. Washington was charged and later found innocent in a shooting incident before the start of the season.
He has said the support of Osborne and his Husker teammates helped him through the trying times. Washington left the football program in 1996, but later ran track in 1997 for Gary Pepin. He currently works with the Nebraska Football Academy at Abbott Sports Complex.
“I love working with kids, sometimes up to 100 of them in a season,” Washington said. “It is great to see those kids grow up and move on.”
Of his five children, his oldest, a son, is a student at NU.