Crossing Enemy Lines: Turner Washington’s Unique Journey From Tucson To Tempe

Photo courtesy: ASU Athletics

Story by Evan Oscherwitz

Turner Washington took the road less traveled on his way to becoming ASU’s shot-put king. Prior to donning the maroon-and-gold, Washington competed for the rival Arizona Wildcats, making him one of a very small group of athletes to suit up for both schools.

Washington might be the toast of the Sun Devils’ track team now, but his success would not have been possible without the year he spent at the school down south. 

Growing up in Tucson, Washington became involved in throwing at an early age. His father competed in three Olympic Games as a discus thrower and coached Turner during his youth.

“He was a good coach,” Washington said. “He didn’t really push it on me and my brother growing up.”

Although he initially wanted to be a wrestler, Washington began to focus on throwing full-time in eighth grade, and it wasn’t long before his decision began to pay dividends.

He excelled as a discus thrower for Canyon Del Oro High School in Tucson, winning a national title and being named Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Arizona as a senior. Washington chose to stay close to home and committed to the University of Arizona. At this point, ASU was a mere afterthought.

“I was not a huge U of A fan [growing up],” Washington said. “But I never thought there was a possibility that I would end up in Tempe, that’s for sure.”

Washington’s freshman year at Arizona did not go according to plan. Philosophical differences with the Wildcats’ coaching staff and mixed results in competition led to him wanting a change of scenery.

At that year’s Pac-12 championships, Washington could not help but notice the success that ASU’s athletes were experiencing, and it was his father’s relationship with coach Brian Blutreich that ultimately led to Turner starting over at Arizona State.

“Some coaches work better with a certain kind of athlete and that’s pretty much what it was,” Washington said. “[Coach Blutreich] threw with my dad back in like the 90s so there’s that kind of connection. I just figured that this guy was probably more similar to what I grew up used to, like a training aspect and coaching style.”

Due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, Washington sat out his first year at ASU and focused on correcting issues with his technique. He also added the shot-put to his repertoire during that time and saw immediate success despite not having much experience.

“When I got up here it was easier to transition to the shot and have some immediate success because it was nothing I had really ever done,” Washington said. “I didn’t have the same bad habits, versus disc where my technique was a mess, so we spent that first year breaking everything down. I think way too much and I try to come up with my own way of throwing and I just need someone to be like ‘no, that’s not how you do it. Do it this way.’” 

Thanks to the work he put in during his redshirt season, Washington was able to reinvent himself as a thrower, and the change was apparent once he began competing again. He won three events in the shot-put during the 2019-20 indoor track season and his 20.43-meter throw at the NAU Friday Night Duals was the fifth-longest in the NCAA last year.

While he did not get the chance to make his much-anticipated return to discus throwing on account of the outdoor season being cancelled, everyone on the NCAA circuit was put on notice that Washington was back.

Now, with a full season on the horizon and a degree under his belt, Washington has his sights set on finishing what he started a year ago. He spent most of the offseason recovering from a fractured pelvis, but Washington says he is fully healthy and able to devote his full attention to training.

“These past couple of weeks have been so nice,” Washington said. “It’s like a weight off my shoulders where I can go to bed at a good time, I can spend my mornings stretching, doing whatever need be. I’m able to direct most of my attention towards being an athlete for the first time since high school.”

If his high school accolades indicate anything, it’s that a Turner Washington with no distractions is bad news for the competition. Equipped with confidence, free time, and a desire to maintain his rightful place as one of the best throwers in the country, the sky truly is the limit for Washington this season.