Malik Washington still had the football with him and still had his cleats on when he stepped to the postgame podium. Several times, he flashed a big smile at the question. He had been in this spot before after a big game for the Hoos, but this time was different. This time, he met the media as a school record holder, and more importantly, with a win in tow.
The Virginia football team defeated Duke on Saturday 30-27 to bring Washington into the press room in a good mood. Understandably. He had another monster game for the Wahoos with 8 catches for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns, which moved him to the top of the school record book for season receiving yards and season receptions.
A piece of white tape wrapped around the ball commemorated the moment.
“I’m probably going to sleep with this thing tonight,” Washington said. “Probably won’t let go of it for a little bit, man, it means a lot to me. We talked about a lot of things like did I imagine this and I really didn’t imagine things like this happening so I just know the work that I put in, the work that we put in all offseason, all throughout the winter is paying off and I love to see that.”
Who could have seen this type of breakout season coming? Washington currently sits with 96 catches, 1,311 yards receiving, and 9 touchdowns this season. Prior to his arrival at Virginia, he recorded 120 catches for 1,348 yards and 3 touchdowns at Northwestern. He never had more than 694 yards in a season there and he produced no 100-yard games.
That means Washington has nearly as many yards this season than he had in his complete career with the Wildcats. He’s also ripped off 9 100-yard receiving games, including six straight. He is now tied with Germane Crowell (1995-97) and Kris Burd (2008-11) for the most in career 100-yard games by a UVA player. He also tripled his career touchdown total this season. Those 9 touchdowns are tied with Crowell (1997), Heath Miller (2002), Olamide Zaccheaus (2018), and Dontayvion Wicks (2021) for the fifth-most ever in a single-season in UVA history.
Washington broke the single season receiving yards record owned by Dontayvion Wicks, who had 1,203 in 2021. The yardage record came on a 34-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter when Virginia quarterback Anthony Colandrea found Washington in the middle of the field and he turned it to a big scoring play. Washington knew how small the margin was to surpass Wicks so he said he definitely was aware of the record before the game Saturday.
“It was four yards so I knew,” Washington said smiling. “I knew first catch or whenever I catch the ball, I’m probably going to get it. I was aware of it and I was happy in the moment and I knew it would be way sweeter, way better if we came out with a win.”
In the second half, Washington took over the single season receptions record too. He made a catch for 27 yards in the third quarter to set up the go-ahead touchdown. He moved past Zaccheaus in the record books in this category; Zaccheaus had 93 catches in 2018. Later in the quarter, Washington made his second scoring catch of the day with a 7-yard line play in the left corner of the end zone. On that play, he had to reach over a Duke defender to get to the ball.
While Washington may not have known the extent of what was possible at Virginia, he had confidence that he capitalize on the opportunity. He has.
“I knew it was somewhere in there, I just had to dig deep and I had to go find it,” Washington said. “I think it just came out this year. The opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it.”
“The guy, I wish we had him for another year,” UVA offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said. “Love the kid, and not just because of his statistics, I just love his day to day. How he attacks it. He never has a bad day. He’s always trying to improve mentally and physically. He’s trying to encourage other guys to come along.”
Beyond the numbers themselves, there’s the matter of how Washington has set the new records. First, he’s had two different quarterbacks with Colandrea and Tony Muskett each handling starter duties at times due to injuries with Muskett. Second, he’s reached the new milestones despite a somewhat slow start in the season opener against Tennesse when he had only 4 catches for 29 yards.
Then there’s the fact that Washington is rattling off game after game of high production even though opponents clearly know it’s coming. He’s able to do that because of route and position versatility. The Hoos line Washington up all over the field and motion him from one spot to another frequently too. At 5’8″ and 194 pounds, the movement and alignment shifts can make it hard for the defense to find Washington once all the pieces are moving. Sometimes that motion is to set up a quick pop pass or waggle route that gets the ball in Washington’s hands in the backfield as he motions across the formation. At other times, he motions across but then quickly flips his direction back the other way immediately after the snap for another short pass route that lets him generate yards after the catch. Sometimes, he’s just a decoy but that opens up things for teammates too.
In other words, Washington has been an indispensable part of the offense in 2023.
“I’m really grateful for Malik believing in us, and really not much to go off of when we were recruiting him and just kind of selling him the vision of what we believed we could build here,” Virginia coach Tony Elliott said. “And he’ll also tell you that what he’s been able to accomplish is a result of a lot of people putting in a lot of work. Things have been progressing in all aspects of the offense to be able to give him an opportunity to do that. And if there was a young man that I say has earned it and deserved it, it would be Malik Washington.”