Four years ago, Loyola coach Joe Brune humbled a confident 185-pound freshman running back named Larry Washington.
"There are no prima donnas on this team," Brune told the 14-year-old, who dreamed of running like Eric Dickerson while playing halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In an instant, Washington understood what he now says was the most important lesson of his career. He'd have to work hard to be the best.
Four years and nearly 5,000 yards of offense later, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Randallstown tailback is still working hard. For gaining 2,022 yards rushing with 31 touchdowns so far this season and leading the top-ranked Rams into the state Class 4A title game, Washington is The Sun's Offensive Player of the Year.
"Without Larry, we're not in the state championship game," said Randallstown coach John Buchheister. "In 13 years, I've never coached a player with Larry's combination of speed and size.
"If he doesn't get hurt, he's pro material -- maybe a high draft pick."
Not bad for a kid who has changed high schools three times and played under four coaches in four years. After playing for Loyola and Brune in his freshman year, he attended Dulaney as a sophomore and played for coach Chuck Klimek. Last year, as a junior, he played for Randallstown's Ken Johnson, who handed the reins to Buchheister.
"I've always [succeeded] on my own ability," said Washington. "I was never around long enough to learn too much from my coaches, and my father and I were never close. I guess there's someone looking out for me."
There are many, in fact, looking out for Washington. They include recruiters from an ever-expanding list of colleges, such as Penn State, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
They look on with great anticipation. After gaining 1,067 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in Johnson's two-back scheme last season, when his assignment was to block much of the time, Washington has prospered as the star attraction in Buchheister's one-back set, where others block for him.
He's averaged just under 10 yards per carry and, earlier this season, scored 10 consecutive touchdowns. He also has used his sprinter's speed, 4.5 seconds in the 40, to snare seven interceptions from his safety position.
"Larry was the most dangerous open-field runner I've ever coached," said Johnson, who's now the coach at Chesapeake-Baltimore County. "He can cut, he's quick and he can run people over. If he can't make it, nobody can."
Despite the praise, there remains a humble, quiet side to Washington. He fondly remembers his days at Dulaney, where he once gained more than 400 yards of offense in a game, and periodically revisits his old stomping grounds to renew friendships.
"The year I was there we were 2-8 and really started to come around," he said. "I've got a lot of friends over there, and I wish I could help them win. I felt really bad leaving."
Now on the verge of his first state title at Randallstown, he has come to terms with his new home. In a game against his former Dulaney teammates earlier this season, the transplanted Lion gained 170 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Said Klimek: "Larry's continued to get better every year. He's just gotten bigger and stronger.
"He was great while he was here. Now he's even greater."