Pat Washington has helped produce multiple NFL players during his 32-year coaching career.
He’s overseen every offensive skill position group outside of quarterbacks, but Washington developed his reputation with wideouts.
Appalachian State’s new wide receivers coach developed pros in Robert Meachem, Peerless Price and Donte Stallworth during his 10 years at Tennessee (1995 to 2005). And at this point, he knows the traits he likes seeing in players.
No. 1, obviously, is an ability to catch the ball. There’s no shock there. But from there, he’s noticed some of his best pupils have shared a common experience.
"Probably some of my best receivers — to be honest with you, in the history of receivers I’ve coached — have been quarterbacks,” Washington said last week. “Because they’ve handled the ball all the time, they are decision makers and they’re clutch guys.”
Fortunately for Washington, part of App State's receiving corps fits that billing. Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams — both juniors in 2019 — had varying experiences as high school quarterbacks.
Hennigan was used as an occasional running quarterback during his senior year at Northwest Guilford in 2016. He did that on top of his normal roles at wide receiver and safety.
And Williams served as the starting quarterback at Chester High School in South Carolina, gaining more than 4,000 yards while passing for another 2,350.
Washington on Thursday mentioned the success he's seen from quarterback-to-receiver transition, bringing up Meachem. The latter was a Wing-T quarterback at Booker T. Washington in Tulsa, Okla., before arriving at Tennessee in 2003. Washington pointed out that four years later, Meachem was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
“When the game is on the line, they actually want the ball in their hands," Washington said for quarterbacks. "Sometimes that guy gets on your nerves a little bit, but that’s the guy you want ... you want guys that want the ball at clutch times.”
Both Hennigan and Williams showed that trait the moment they arrived on campus. The pair saw playing time as true freshmen in 2017. While Williams saw his initial impact fade due to improved late-season play of Ike Lewis, Hennigan started as a sturdy option for an offense that needed it.
Most notably, Hennigan made a one-handed catch in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest, setting up the potential game-winning field goal that Appalachian ultimately missed in the 20-19 loss.
Williams surged in 2018 while sharing time in the slot with grad transfer Dominique Heath. He had two touchdown catches in the season opener against Penn State. He was one of many weapons for the position group, which featured a stellar debut season for Corey Sutton.
Coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s past offenses have featured a pass-heavy approach. N.C. State attempted nearly 150 more passes than App State in 2018 (464 to 319 pass attempts). Drinkwitz inherits a running quarterback in Zac Thomas, as well as a talented group of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. Of the Mountaineers top eight pass catchers, seven will be back. That includes four of the top-five wideouts for Washington to work with.
Washington said the new coaching staff realizes the unique situation they’re walking in to. The cabinet, for the short term, is full.
“Normally you walk in there and you totally have to rebuild the program,” Washington said. “For some reason, it is a disaster, for whatever reason, something has happened to make it really bad.
“Now you’ve got to really build it up. Where as App State, we just have to try to make it better than it was, and it’s been pretty dang good.”