Filling the shoes of All-American safety Phillip Thomas would seem like a daunting task for anyone. But then again, Charles Washington is not just anyone.
With Thomas' departure to the NFL, the 5-foot-11-inch, 189-pound sophomore sees this as an opportunity to make his own mark on the Fresno State football team and, more importantly, to prove that he deserves to be the man replacing one of the most talented defensive players in Bulldogs' history.
"He (Thomas) set a high standard and that's the standard I have to be better than," said Washington.
Rather than shy away from any pressure or negative attention put on him by the departure of Thomas, Washington has stepped up this spring to battle for the starting strong safety position. And so far, the battle has been competitive and close, with fellow teammates Rodney Matthews and Dalen Jones moving up the depth chart.
Washington first garnered some attention last season, playing in 11 games and recording 12 tackles. However, it was on special teams where he made the most noise. Last season, Washington's eight tackles (six on kickoff coverage, two on punt coverage) were third most on the team.
During the offseason, Washington dedicated himself, mentally and physically, in order to make a giant leap up the depth chart. "I knew that going in to spring, they would expect me to communicate more, know the playbook more," Washington said. "I knew I was going to train hard physically, but my main focus was to get the mental part of the game better."
Washington's dedication to improving himself hasn't gone unnoticed.
First year defensive backs coach David Brown sees potential in the making with Washington.
"He's done a great job. He's really feeling comfortable and looking comfortable," said Brown. "He has some serious pop to him."
The ability to have some "pop" is important in order to play strong safety. It's a physical position that requires some heavy hitting. And Thomas played it well enough to become an All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the best defensive back in college football.
Washington's eagerness to replace Thomas, rather than being afraid of replacing him, has him ready for a breakout season in 2013. And since Washington feels like his play is very reminiscent of Thomas, the Bulldogs may not have to worry about how to replace him.
"I feel like I have the same abilities as Phillip," Washington said.
"He's just trying to be the best player he can be," said Brown. "It's really not about replacing the guy, it's more of come in, play your spot and make plays."
Despite any and all pressures to replacing Thomas, Washington feels this spring has been an easier adjustment for him versus last year. He has enjoyed going out on to the field and developing his own style of play and not someone else's.
"This year's a lot easier than last year," Washington said. "I'm able to play a lot faster in the strong safety position versus the free safety position."
In addition to Washington's emergence, the strong play of teammates Sean Alston, Davon Dunn and All-Mountain West free safety Derron Smith have Brown salivating at the thought of the kind of damage that can be casused with this unit.
Washington feels that the best is yet to come for him and the rest of the defensive backfield despite the loss of Thomas. They expect to play fast, fanatical and physical. Hopefully, the result will be turnovers-and lots of them. "Turnovers," Washington said with a smile. "Lead the nation in turnovers."
Washington realizes that he's going to be compared to Thomas, regardless of how well he plays. Based on his attitude, though, he doesn't care about the size of the shoes he has to fill.
"I really don't get caught up in being better than Phillip," he said. "My main focus is to be productive for the team."
Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on 2013 Fresno State spring football. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @dodgerjason.