Prior to Penn State’s 2020 campaign, the team's wide receiver group was heavily criticized and thought to be a weak point in an offense with few holes.
But like much in 2020, the unexpected came to fruition, and the Nittany Lion wideouts quickly proved to be one of the strongest units for James Franklin in a season of struggle.
The surge to success was led by then-junior receiver Jahan Dotson, who led the Big Ten with 884 receiving yards and was tied for the conference lead with eight receiving touchdowns.
Although Dotson proved himself to be a lead-by-example player with a game-changing skillset, he likely would not have seen the success he did without the presence of a blossoming star in Parker Washington.
Washington, a true freshman in 2020, was quickly a pleasant surprise for Franklin and Penn State fans and turned out to be one of the more impressive first-year players in the entire country.
He made noise in the Big Ten along with Dotson, pacing all freshmen in receiving yards and touchdowns. He also ranked second in the nation among first-year players with six touchdown receptions.
His success was an integral part of the turnaround for the Nittany Lions, who finished last season 4-5 after an 0-5 start.
MORE FOOTBALL COVERAGE
Two Penn State players found themselves amid a list of the nation's best offensive linemen Tuesday.
Now with a normal offseason of work under his belt, Washington’s competitive nature is pushing everyone in the program to be the best they can be — especially the guy he lines up alongside every day.
“[By] having such great talent in one room, we get to learn from each other. That's the great thing about it,” Dotson said at Big Ten Media Day last Thursday. “Us two learn different things from each other. He has some of the best hands I've ever seen. He does [Odell Beckham Jr.]-like things on the regular. So just having such great talent in one room is truly unbelievable. Just [going] out there every day and working with him.”
Dotson’s praise for his fellow wideout didn’t stop there as he and Washington have developed a relationship off the field as well.
And like Dotson, the Sugar Land, Texas, native is ultra-competitive in everything he does, which is something that can be appreciated by the Big Ten’s leading receiver in 2020.
“He is at my house every single day, competing in video games, going over signals, stuff like that,” Dotson said. “It's cool to see him grow as a player. I saw him coming in as a freshman. He's very talented and then just to see him grow each and every day and the way he works, it's pretty unmatched. It’s cool to have a guy like him by my side.”
The progression of Washington, though, started well before his freshman campaign at Penn State.
He played high school football at an extremely high level in Texas, where some of the best young talent in the sport has developed over the years.
Playing at William B. Travis High School, Washington had a similar effect on his high school teammates as he does on his fellow Nittany Lions now.
Mix that leadership with his talent and you get a player that has the capability of being something truly special, according to his high school coach Trey Sissom.
“From the first time we saw [Washington] play in middle school, we knew he was special,” Sissom told The Daily Collegian. “Not only was he one of the best players on the field, but he had a way of bringing out the best in his teammates.”
MORE FOOTBALL COVERAGE
There's almost too many preseason awards to count for one Penn State safety.
While leadership doesn’t immediately translate to success on the field, Sissom knew Washington was headed for greatness, and his development is far from complete.
“Parker is one of the most talented players we've ever had, and his development as a player is no surprise,” Sissom said. “His production is just a byproduct of his hard work and determination, and most are just now beginning to see his full potential.”
While the incoming sophomore has a lot to be proud of in his recent past, he is focused on what he can do to gain even more of an edge in 2021.
“The next step is really just getting comfortable with seeing the defenses and identifying what they're doing,” Washington said in April. “Being a young player that has to be that comes over time, so I feel like I'm doing pretty good with that right now.”
His continued progression could pay off hugely for Franklin and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, and Washington seems to think the new system could help produce an all-time receiving corps at Penn State in 2021
“With Yurcich’s offense, it's just exciting because he brings the energy all the time, and there’s a lot of opportunity,” Washington said. “I feel like you just have to be consistent in the receiver room, and there will be great numbers next season.”