Justin Washington was rushed to a San Antonio hospital hours before the biggest football game of his life, his skin red, throat closing and heart pounding.
The Arizona Wildcats' team trainers knew the symptoms of anaphylaxis, the result of a severe allergic reaction. Washington was too scared, angry and anxious to care about the specifics.
"Worst experience I ever had," the defensive lineman said. "Never again."
Eight months after a reaction to pine nuts forced him to miss the first half of the Alamo Bowl and seven months after undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery, Washington is back and ready to take his place as a team leader.
The Wildcats need him. The 6-foot-2-inch, 278-pound sophomore tackle registered 46 tackles, 11 1/2 tackles-for-loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2010. He's expected to lead a defensive line that lost three players -defensive ends Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed and D'Aundre Reed - to the NFL.
"I bleed football, man," Washington said. "I'm still here, and I'm ready to go."
Washington's nightmarish offseason started Dec.29, when the Texas native and UA starter ate a pre-Alamo Bowl rice dish containing pine nuts - a food that Washington had no idea he was allergic to. UA trainers administered an epinephrine shot and took him to a local hospital.
"He had a reaction to the pine nuts - hives, shortness of breath, the whole anaphylactic thing," said Randy Cohen, the UA's head trainer. "The first time that happens to you, you get kind of freaked out."
Washington missed the first half, and the Wildcats lost to Oklahoma State 36-10.
The medical scare was only part of Washington's rough winter. He underwent surgery in January to repair a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder and missed all of spring drills as a result.
The time spent on the sidelines allowed Washington to watch the team's revamped line. Kirifi Taula and Aiulua Fanene stood out, Washington said, "though really they all showed a big improvement."
Washington knows that he - and, to a lesser extent, defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka - need to take more of a leadership role this season. That means teaching and encouraging many of the younger players on a raw but promising defensive line.
Washington "has just got to be healthy," defensive tackles coach Joe Salave'a said.
"This game is a humbling game, a 'What have you done for me lately?' game," he said. "What you've done last year isn't good enough."
This year, Washington's goals remain fairly simple: Contribute, be a part of a successful team - and stay away from pine nuts.
"Now," he said, "I go nowhere near those."
New diet helping UA quarterback Foles avoid allergic reactions, gain focus AND energy
UA quarterback Nick Foles says he feels healthier than ever after cutting three common foods from his diet during the offseason.
Foles underwent a food allergy test last spring as part of his annual physical; doctors told him that he is allergic to whey protein, milk and eggs.
"Those were things I was having on a daily basis," he said. "I'd put whey protein in my body after practice, and it wasn't helping at all."
Foles has tried to cut all three foods out of his diet, though he knows it's probably impossible to eliminate them altogether.
Foles credits Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints' starting quarterback and a fellow graduate of Austin's Westlake High School, for bringing attention to food allergies. Brees is allergic to dairy, wheat gluten, eggs and nuts.
While Foles' allergies aren't relatively severe, the improvements are noticeable. The quarterback is now taking new vitamins and fish-oil supplements to balance his new diet.
"I can see a dramatic improvement in my energy, in my focus," he said. "I'm doing everything I can to reach my full potential."
TRAINING CAMP INSIDER
Day 6 at Arizona Stadium
• Highlights: The Wildcats' first scrimmage of training camp was sloppy, players and coaches said, but not necessarily surprising. The UA is trying to break in five new offensive linemen and two new starters on the defensive line. The inexperience led to five penalties during the 80-play, hour-long scrimmage at Arizona Stadium. Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Scott both led scoring drives, but the UA's offense turned the ball over three times. Nickelback Jourdon Grandon intercepted Foles on the second possession of the day. Linebacker Bilal Muhammad and safety Josh Robbins both recovered fumbles; Robbins, a Tucson native, finished with a team-high five tackles. Scott led the offense to its first score, connecting with receiver David Douglas on an 18-yard touchdown pass. Scott completed 13 of 18 passes for 141 yards, and Foles hit on 12 of 16 for 101 yards. Ka'Deem Carey rushed for a team-high 20 yards on six carries, and Daniel Jenkins picked up 9 yards on four rushes. David Roberts caught four passes for 50 yards.
• Weather: 82
• Injury report: Safety Adam Hall, linebacker Jake Fischer, running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are all out indefinitely as they recover from offseason knee surgeries. Running back Keola Antolin and wide receiver Juron Criner were held out of Tuesday's scrimmage for precautionary reasons.
• Up next: The Wildcats depart today for Fort Huachuca. They'll hold their first practice Thursday at 7 a.m. on the installation.
• He said it: "We needed to get a little live work, working on tackling and management of the game, managing situations. … It was a good scrimmage overall. We have a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere." - Coach Mike Stoops