John Washington, a freshman cornerback for Division III Muhlenberg, has been following in the footsteps of sophomore quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky.
Ever since the two — Washington in the eighth grade and Hnatkowsky in the ninth — began playing on the Little Quakers 15-and-under youth football team, they've been on the field together. After playing on the all-star team with Hnatkowsky, Washington enrolled at Penn Charter, where the QB was a student, to begin his high school career.
When it was time for him to select a college, Washington again gravitated toward Hnatkowsky.
"Over the years, his family and my family, we've really grown into something special," Hnatkowsky said. "It's been a lot of fun so far, and hopefully we can grab a couple more guys from Penn Charter and really keep this thing going here at Muhlenberg."
The two have led Muhlenberg to an 11-1 record, the most wins the program has had since 1946. Saturday, the team will face reigning Division III champion and 13-time titlist Mount Union in an NCAA quarterfinal in Alliance, Ohio.
During their time at Penn Charter, Hnatkowsky celebrated with guys on both sides of the ball. If the defense made an interception or the offense scored, he was always there to congratulate and celebrate his teammate's accomplishments. Hnatkowsky remembers the school's annual rivalry game against Germantown Academy a few years ago. Washington made an interception that led to a Quakers touchdown on the next play.
"Everyone fed off his energy and his game play," Washington said of Hnatkowsky. "Every time he would do something or someone else would do something, Mike was always there to congratulate whoever made the play."
Hnatkowsky has set Muhlenberg records for passing yards and passing touchdowns this season by throwing for 3,012 yards and 30 TDs. Washington is second on the Mules in interceptions with four and has made 21 tackles, including 16 solos.
"From the first day of camp, Coach [Kory David] has been drilling into our heads to play smart, little details here and there and technique and everything. And once we got that inside our minds, we just started to believe in one another and just taking each play," said Washington, who is joined on the Mules defense by three other former Inter-Ac players: linebackers Mickey Kober (Haverford School) and Kwasi Ampomah (Germantown Academy) and nose tackle Frank Cresta (Haverford School).
During practice and between plays, Washington has no problem asking coaches questions. He credits his quick success to learning the playbook during camp, becoming close with the upperclassmen, and understanding the dynamics of the team.
"One play at a time and don't worry about the next game. Just worry about your part, and everything else will fall into place," Washington said.