Cornelius Washington has never been good at mincing words.
It's just not his style. He was brought up to say what he believes regardless of the circumstances. Georgia's senior outside linebacker sees little sense in "beating around the bush."
If you want Washington's opinion, just ask.
"What's the point of telling lies?" he asked. "I don't really want to come up here and say a whole lot of things that I don't mean, because a lot of times when I'm quoted about things, it's not exactly the way I said it or how I meant it, and then I end up angry at myself about it. I just try to come up here and be myself and be as honest as I possibly can be about things. And you know, not all of it is in my favor, to be honest. It's not always a good thing. Maybe sometimes I should butter some stuff up, but that's just not me. I'm a straight shooter."
Never was his own forthrightness more evident than a Facebook post he made over the summer in the wake of teammate Isaiah Crowell's arrest, as previously reported by The Red & Black. Following Crowell's subsequent dismissal from the team, Washington took to the well-known social media site to vent his frustrations. It wasn't Crowell's banishment that moved Washington to speak his piece; instead, it was the outpouring of negativity aimed at the troubled tailback that bothered Washington. Fans think they know so much about the players they cheer for on fall Saturdays, Washington wrote. In reality, they know nothing.
As long as players produce, fans celebrate their accomplishments. But the moment they slip — especially away from the field — those who call themselves Bulldog supporters are nowhere to be found. Instead, they have transformed into the players' biggest and most vocal critics.
The incongruency between on-field adulation and off-field condemnation was a conundrum Washington couldn't rationalize.
"I just saw so much stuff about Isaiah on [social] networks, and to me, why is it that the first thing people thought about was football?" Washington asked. "Why was the first thing that people could do was bash him? It's like, this guy is facing some serious hardships right now."
Tough times were something Washington believed his former teammate had overcome. Arriving at Georgia with the label of "program savior" hanging around his neck, Crowell lived up to the hype on the field — to an extent. The true freshman from Columbus rushed for 850 yards and five touchdowns on his way to winning Southeastern Conference freshman of the year honors from the media. As much success and praise as Crowell found, he also drew the ire of Georgia fans who, fairly or not, thought he didn't play through the nagging injuries that cropped up throughout the season. The talented-but-mercurial tailback also dealt with punishment from the coaching staff, suspended for the New Mexico State game along with backfield mates Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas, with the trio reportedly failing drug tests.
In the spring, things were different, Washington and other teammates assured. Crowell had turned over a new leaf, more disciplined than the immature 18-year-old who joined the previous summer. Washington tossed around the typical refrains one expects to hear of a reformed man: Crowell had made a "total 180" and the contrast was like "night and day." Then, of course, Washington had to deal with the news of Crowell's arrest. He saw the overwhelming disapproval and pointed comments about his former teammate, and he "reacted too hastily," he admitted. But Washington's comments didn't just represent his own opinion.
John Jenkins confirmed he spoke for the entire team.
"He took the 'L' for that," the nose tackle said.
Washington isn't just passionate about defending former teammates.
He's also known as the Bulldogs' premier motivator. He's the player everyone else looks to for a fiery speech prior to taking the field. Every team needs one.
That's why fellow senior Christian Robinson is glad to have Washington on his side.
"He's the most vocal guy we have out there," Robinson said. "He's not just somebody that breaks it down, he's somebody you respect. When he says something, people listen. He's been that guy for us for a while. That's one thing in the past two seasons — we've had great guys like that, him and Ben Jones, guys that weren't afraid to speak to the team and say what's on their minds and keep us together when things aren't going well."
Things haven't gone the way Washington would have liked during his Georgia career, either. Considered a four-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout coming out of Burke County High School in 2008, expectations were high. His gifts were evident: despite his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) as a high school senior, he still possessed incredible speed, placing seventh in the Class AA state track meet in the 100-meter dash, clocking in at 11.25. But his Bulldog career got off to a slow start, taking a redshirt his freshman season. The ensuing years have been solid, though not spectacular: Washington has tallied 79 tackles — 17 for loss — and 10.5 sacks in four seasons. The highlight of his senior campaign came in the third quarter of last Saturday's SEC Championship game against Alabama, blocking a field goal attempt, which Alec Ogletree picked up and took for a touchdown to extend Georgia's lead to 21-10.
Still, it's only one play, albeit the kind Washington once envisioned he would make regularly.
"I do get frustrated sometimes when I think about my career and where I want to be later on down the road, but I have to focus on where I'm at right now and what I'm doing here," he said. "I want to give the guys everything I have, so I just go out every weekend and try to perform the best that I can. Sometimes stats come and sometimes they don't."
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Washington's contributions haven't gone unnoticed. On multiple occasions during the 2012 season, Grantham acknowledged many of the things Washington does well "don't appear in the stat sheet."
And that's fine by him.
"Cornelius has done a really good job," Grantham said. "He's a hard worker, he has played multiple spots and he gives effort and energy. He can get the quarterback off his spots with his rush, and he plays defensive line and outside linebacker for us, so he gives us a guy that can do dual things. Any time you've got guys who can do multiple things, they give you value, and that's what he's done."
In a cruel irony, Washington's best day as a Bulldog doubled as his worst. In Georgia's victory over Mississippi State on Oct. 1 last season, Washington had four tackles and two sacks. The first of those quarterback takedowns was a vicious hit on Chris Relf, leveling Mississippi State's signal-caller on a third-down play on the game's opening drive. The ferocious sack proved to be the tone-setter of Georgia's 24-10 victory. In postgame interviews, Washington was pleased with his performance — well-deserved, of course.
Roughly 10 hours after he left Sanford Stadium that day, he had a much bigger issue to deal with: a DUI arrest. Headed northbound on U.S. Highway 441, Washington was pulled over by a Commerce police officer for speeding, going 92 miles per hour in an area with a posted limit of 55. After getting out of the vehicle and performing a range of tests — which included a breathalyzer reading of 0.12 — he was charged with DUI and speeding. He was also suspended from Georgia's next two games, staying in Athens while his teammates picked up road victories over Tennessee and Vanderbilt, respectively.
Washington, in this solitary instance, decided not to open up when asked about his indiscretion. It's in the past. It's a blemish he can't erase; he took his suspension, did his community service and moved on.
What else could he do?
"I think he's grown up a lot," Robinson said. " ... You just have to continue to take everything and grow from it. He's been a guy that has had ups and downs, and he's at the top right now."
His divisive Facebook post aside, Washington has had no further problems. For now, his claim of having "learned a lesson" rings true. But should he ever have doubts, he need look no further than advice he imparted upon Crowell before the tailback left Athens. Everyone has to navigate through choppy waters at some point, Washington told his young counterpart.
What matters is making sure a pattern doesn't develop.
"I told [Crowell], 'Have a plan, and stick to the plan. Don't deviate from it,'" Washington said. "That's probably the only thing that's going to keep you on the right track."