Georgios Alex thought his grandson was crazy. Sanity conscious guy nuts. No one refuses Harvard. Nobody.
Georgios was a Greek immigrant who settled in Solana Beach, California, opened a series of Greek restaurants and, for the most part, knew of a school in the United States: Harvard. For Georgios, people who attended Harvard must be children of royalty or the wealthiest.
And his grandson — Boise State redshirt senior EDGE Demitri Washington — could have been with these people, a student of this school with all of its prestige and history and academics.
One day, the Washingtons took Georgios to a local Greek restaurant so he could meet some friends for coffee. When they got there, Washington’s phone rang. At the end of the line was Tim Murphy, the most successful football coach in Harvard’s history – and a man who might go unrecognized in downtown Boston.
But, to Georgios, when Washington took the call and Murphy’s voice boomed over the speakerphone, it sounded like Nick Saban was calling. In fact, scratch Saban. Maybe the president or the pope. It was Harvard telling Georgios’ grandson they wanted him. The first person in their family to go to college could not only go to college, but go to the middle School.
He spent the whole afternoon telling all his friends about it. Years later, Washington can still hear his grandfather in that restaurant, the joy and pride in his voice as he bellowed across the room in his thick Greek accent: Harvard. Harvard. Harvard. Harvard. Harvard.
And it wasn’t just Georgios who thought Washington was headed for Harvard.
Every year, Jon Wallace brings some of his players back East so they can get through the gauntlet of Ivy League football camps. The coach at Santa Fe Christian, a small institution with just 450 high school students, has signed kids to Ivy League programs before. If they have the grades, they probably can’t make a better investment in their future.
Wallace took Washington twice on this trip. Once, when leaving the Harvard camp, Washington realized that he had forgotten his shoulder pads. He told the Crimson coaches he was on his way back to pick up his gear. They thought he hadn’t really forgotten that he was coming back to enlist at Harvard.
“They had pizza and stuff everywhere,” said Jack Miles, Washington’s friend and teammate who was on the trip.
Instead, Washington grabbed his things and got back in the car. He never committed to Harvard. But he quietly enrolled at another Ivy League school: Penn. Although it’s not Harvard, there is the Wharton School of Business that Washington was accepted into. But he pulled out of it soon after.
“My family hasn’t spoken to me for a week,” Washington said, not joking.
“What really instilled in Demitri was education first,” said his mother, Pat. “I was a bit saddened at that time when he said he didn’t want to play there.”
Georgios too. There’s an old photo of Demitri in a dark red Harvard sweatshirt, leaning against his pappou (Greek for grandfather). Demitri had his arms crossed and his head bowed next to Georgios, whose head was filled with short white hair and his face filled with utter joy.
Throughout Washington’s life, at least one of his parents attended every game. Everybody. Until Boise State played Air Force in 2020. Amid COVID, the Academy was not allowing any spectators to its games.
Which meant Donald and Pat Washington watched on TV, from their living room more than 1,000 miles away, feeling helpless as their son fell on the Colorado Springs grass with a brutal knee injury.
When Washington returned to Boise and underwent surgery, the pain and recovery still kept him from walking. Getting to his room on the second floor was going to be impossible. So Pat flew to Boise, brought her son to a room at the Holiday Inn ADA, and stayed with him for three weeks, until he grew strong enough to crawl backwards down the stairs of his apartment.
“(It was) difficult,” Pat said. “Being a grown man and not being able to take care of himself. Need us for everything.
Instead of watching a movie with his teammates, Washington sat on a Holiday Inn bed with his braced leg elevated, watching rerun after rerun of Law and Order. Instead of following a promising first season with a groundbreaking sophomore campaign, his mother drove him to rehab sessions.
And his recovery carried over to last season. Washington’s first full-speed race day marked the start of fall camp. His first time unrestricted was the season opener. Washington still started all 12 games at EDGE, but he clearly wasn’t advancing the same way.
A year later, coaches at Boise State talk about Washington with an enthusiasm that would make the Energizer Bunny jealous.
LOVE local news? Get local news headlines delivered to your inbox daily.
Thanks! You’ll start getting the headlines tomorrow!
“He’s a guy you can’t ignore because he works hard, he does everything you ask,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said. “When someone does all of these things, you want them to succeed.
“Demitri can attack you in the Pass-Rush game. It can set edges in the racing game. Obviously, there are still things he needs to work on, but he has the potential to be an offense nightmare.
So what has changed? Was it all just a payback? Just the extra experience?
Washington’s change, the way he went from having a disappointing junior season to looking like a top contender, is fascinating. Again, so does he. He’s a guy who could have gone to Harvard, who got accepted to Wharton School. He is brilliant.
Rather than sulking about rehab, Washington took his time away from football as a period almost to check his priorities in life, to think about his goals — whether that be playing in the NFL or going into business.
“It’s definitely different in the sense that his goal is to do his best now,” Pat said. “Control the things he can control and keep learning.”
“I think before it was so defining who he was,” Wallace added. “Like, ‘I’m a football player.’ And he realised, ‘I’m not just a football player, I’m a great guy with a really bright future.
Says Washington: “Everyday, if I have fun playing football with my friends and push myself and be deliberate with what I’m doing, I’m going to be happy.”
When Washington was young, his parents used to drop off their young son with Georgios. While operating his restaurant, Greek Burrito, young Demitri often sat next door in his high chair, chomping on food.
“They were incredibly close,” Pat Washington said of her son and father.
Said Miles, “That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Demitri is the only son in their family and his grandfather was very proud of him. He was just proud to see him succeed.
It’s Greek tradition to name your child after your father, but “we couldn’t call him George Washington,” Pat said with a laugh. So they chose Demitrios Georgios Washington.
And yet, when Washington rejected Harvard, “My grandfather,” Washington said, “who helped raise me all my life, didn’t speak to me for a week.”
Soon the conversations around the dinner table began to change. From “Why not Harvard” to “Son, why Boise?” Why Idaho? said Pat Washington.
“Boise was really the dark horse (in Washington’s recruiting),” said Wallace, his high school coach.
Nobody understood it. People don’t trade a Ferrari for a Honda Civic. The logic was missing. Then the family visited Boise and even now, more than five years later, the passion for Pat Washington’s voice erupts through the phone.
“I’m telling you,” she said, “I walked on The Blue, I looked around and from coaches to people, it was just – I knew at that moment why he wanted to be there.”
One of the coaches who helped make this happen was Andy Avalos, the current Boise State chief who recruited Washington to coach the Broncos linebackers. Avalos not only impressed Washington, but also Georgios.
“He called Coach Avalos ‘Smooth’,” Pat said. “Because in his eyes, if you could talk a kid out of going to Harvard, you were slick.”
Georgios died in April. Months later, as Pat conjured up photos of his father and son, a recent photo popped up.
Standing in front of his house, a bearded Washington towers over his grandfather. Georgios still had his big smile. But his white hair was harder to see. He was covered in a blue Boise State hat.