COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Derrick Washington's ability to find the end zone in high school led him to Missouri, where he's finding touchdowns just as easy to come by.
The third-ranked Tigers' new go-to running back leads the nation in scoring with 13 touchdowns in the first five starts of his career. Thanks to Washington, Missouri (5-0) hasn't missed Tony Temple, who set a Cotton Bowl record with 281 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his last game with the Tigers.
"I knew this was going to happen, I just kind of sat back and let it happen," coach Gary Pinkel said. "He's got a chance to be a high, high level running back."
Washington played sparingly as a freshman last season rushing for 184 yards with one touchdown and 10 receptions. As it turned out he was just biding his time.
"When we get the ball down at the goal line, I love to have the ball in my hands," Washington said. "Anytime I get the ball, I'm trying to score. It's happening and I'm liking it."
Washington was part of a mini-dynasty at Raymore-Peculiar High School, near Kansas City, which won three straight Class 5A state titles from 2004-06 while going 36-3. He totaled 83 touchdowns and 5,500 yards from scrimmage in high school, twice winning Kansas City offensive player of the year.
He was big in the big games, too, scoring 12 touchdowns in the three title games.
"Not much has changed," said tight end Chase Coffman, a former high school teammate of Washington's. "He's still a hard worker, going as hard as he can.
"Being in that starting position, he's bound to break something."
Washington's exploits are often overshadowed on a team that features quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the former a Heisman Trophy finalist and the latter an All-American. But he was perhaps the star in last week's 52-17 rout at Nebraska, Missouri's first victory in Lincoln, Neb., in 30 years.
Washington gained 139 yards on only 14 carries with two touchdowns, and added a third score on a 7-yard reception. He's broken some of Missouri's longest scoring plays, including a 59-yard run against Nevada, a 43-yarder against Nebraska and a 40-yarder against Illinois.
"I feel like I'm under the radar but I kind of like that," Washington said. "We have so many weapons on this offense, and you can't stop all of them."
At a rugged 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, Washington is as big of a threat between the tackles as on a sweep. He likes to make a quick cut and go, but can also bulldoze defenders for the tough yards.
"He sees holes before they open," Pinkel said. "Is he Gale Sayers, is he Walter Payton? He's very unique. I don't know who he looks like, but I like what I see."
Pinkel said Washington's ability to shift gears once he reaches the secondary, and fake out the opposition by looking one way and going another, is unique. On several of his touchdown jaunts, he's been barely touched.
"When he puts a move on you here, he's always looking over there," Pinkel said. "It's amazing to watch him run. He's always making people miss."
The feature back job was up for grabs in spring practice. Washington beat out senior Jimmy Jackson, who scored seven touchdowns in only 67 carries last year, and has never looked back.
"I think everything worked out for a reason," Washington said. "I'm playing a lot right now and good things are happening."
Temple was among those watching at the Nebraska game.
"He just told me to keep it up," Washington said. "He said 'You're the man."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)