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Power receiver is finally catching attention

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mike Washington won't lie. Not over a quarter-inch.

"I'm 5-7 and a half, no shoes," he said, refusing to accept the 5-foot-8 height in his Pittsburgh Power biography.

But his growth in a more important way — one that could lead to a long professional career — is more clearly defined.

Washington, an Aliquippa High School graduate playing his rookie season indoors, leads the Power in receiving yards (819) and touchdowns (16) entering the 12th game of the season Saturday against the Storm in Tampa.

The Power (7-4) have moved into first place in the American Conference East Division largely on the strength of wide receivers Washington (68 receptions, 4.2 touchdowns per catch) and veteran Jason Willis (74, 5.2).

The players cling to the hope of advancing to the outdoor game when the AFL season ends in August.

For Washington, however, getting teams to pay attention to him has been a problem.

He was not highly recruited while at Aliquippa, but he ended up at the University of Hawaii.

Through his first three seasons on the island, he caught 19 passes for one touchdown before breaking out in 2008, catching 62 for 789 yards and six touchdowns.

At that point, it was the NFL's turn to ignore him.

Washington wouldn't accept his fate, however, and he said he started "tripping around the world," trying out for several teams in the United Football League and Canadian Football League.

When he returned to Aliquippa last year to visit his grandparents, his luck changed.

While reconnecting with the home folks, Washington started showing up at the Steelers' practice facility on the South Side. The team's scouts noticed his pass-catching skills and elusiveness, but the coaching staff wasn't willing to add him to its training-camp roster.

They did the next best thing, though:

"They made some calls," Washington said.

Finally, Power coach Chris Siegfried offered a tryout and a job.

Siegfried is smart enough to realize that Washington is only on his team because the NFL is leery about investing in a short wide receiver without an extensive college resume.

Washington is hoping the Power's first 11 games change some minds.

"He is a guy who is getting better each and every day, each week," Siegfried said. "He has been really consistent for us and had made a lot of great catches for us. I think he is a natural for this game."

While Washington, 24, hopes for a shot in the NFL, Willis, who will be 31 next month, has been to the other side of the mountain.

He was with three NFL teams before trying the indoors game, but he still dreams about going back.

"That is what is driving me right now," he said. "I take care of my body. I do all the little things to keep feeling young. The dream will never be over.

"The CFL is a league you can play at an old age for a receiver. Being on a big, grass field is always No. 1."

POWER GAME DAY

Power (7-4) at Tampa Bay Storm (4-7)

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: St. Pete Times Forum

Radio: KDKA-FM, 93.7-FM, The Fan

Notable: Six of the Power's seven victories have been by margins of 2, 7, 10, 6, 1 and 3 points. ... The return of quarterback Bernard Morris has been the key to the Power's surge into first place in the American Conference East. He has completed 84 of 135 passes for 979 yards, 23 touchdowns and only three intereceptions in the past four games. ... With seven games left in the season, the race for the four playoff spots from the American Conference has settled on five teams — the Power and Cleveland Gladiators (6-5) of the East Division and Jacksonvillle Sharks (10-1), Orlando Predators (8-3) and Georgia Force (7-5) of the South. ... Tampa Bay wide receiver Huey Whittaker is one of only four AFL pass catchers with more than 100 receptions. He has 103 for 1,125 yards and 21 touchdowns. ... Michael Lindsey has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.

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