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June 21, 2017

Perseverance | L’Damian Washington’s Story

There are so many rock solid reasons for L’Damian Washington not to be here. There were the roadblocks – some mental, others physical – and the countless doors forever slammed in his face.

All of this, frankly, is just part of what makes the story of the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver story so compelling, inspirational, and heart-breaking all at once.

And to begin the tale of the road Washington travelled from Louisiana to the Bombers’ starting lineup, we must start with this:

“My dad was murdered when I was six, my mom passed away after my high-school basketball game, right outside the school as we were leaving…”

L’Damian Washington was born in Shreveport, Louisiana 26 years ago, the second youngest of four brothers who would come to lean on each other in a time of crisis, forming an unbreakable bond that remains as tight today as ever. His father was shot to death when he was just six, he and his brothers L’Courtney, Tobias and Tomarious were raised by their mother, Sonya.

But late in 2006, just after Christmas, Sonya had a stroke and died just after leaving one of L’Damian’s basketball games.

He was 15.

L’Courtney was 19 and became his legal guardian after the boys decided to remain together and care for each other. Three of the four now have their home base in Missouri, where L’Damian went to college, while L’Courtney remains in Louisiana.

“We made it happen,” explained Washington after practice on Tuesday. “I’m blessed to have my brothers in my life after losing both parents. Everything I do, the reason I haven’t given up, is because of them. I’m not here because of myself, I’m here because of my brothers.”

But this isn’t just a story about hardship, it’s also about perseverance. Washington was a star at Missouri and parlayed his success there – he caught 100 passes for 1,735 yards and 15 touchdowns while becoming one of the Tigers’ most popular players – into one NFL opportunity after another.

He was signed by the Dallas Cowboys just after the 2014 NFL Draft. And released on August 2nd.

He was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco 49ers the next day. And released on August. 30th.

The New York Giants signed him to their practice squad on September 16th, 2014. Eight days later he was released.

The Cleveland Browns added Washington to their practice squad on October 21st. He was waived on November 25th.

The Miami Dolphins signed him to their practice squad on December 3rd. A month later, January 8th, 2015, he was plucked from the Dolphins by the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing a futures contract.

But by May 21st, following a serious calf injury, he was waived by the Steelers.

“Honestly, I thought my career was over after Pittsburgh,” Washington admitted. “I split my calf right off the bone and they didn’t know if I would play again or not. I rehabbed my butt off… like I said, it’s been a journey.”

That journey continued later that summer when the Kansas City Chiefs signed him on August 3rd. And then released him on August 30th.

A year later Washington’s name surfaced again on the transaction wire as he was signed by the Edmonton Eskimos on September 1st, 2016. But 12 days later he was cut. Again.

This past offseason, Washington attended an Eskimos spring camp when he was told, for the ninth time, that his services would no longer be required.

Washington figured then that his playing days were done.

 

 

It was in late May, CFL camps already underway, when he got a phone call from Winnipeg. Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel Ted Goveia was on the line and he had one question: “he asked me if I had something left in the tank. I showed up and tried to make the most of my opportunity.”

Washington uses two words frequently and, given his back story, it’s not surprising. He speaks often of ‘opportunity’ and, in the course of an eight-minute chat with the media on Tuesday, he used the word ‘blessing’ seven times.

It’s funny how football works sometimes. And life, just like the game Washington plays, can be both rewarding and cruel.

“It was crazy because I went from doing nothing to one day… I remember my first day just standing there on the field thinking, ‘Wow, life comes at you fast’ because I was on the couch and then the next day I was doing one-on-one stuff,” said Washington. “It’s a big blessing. It’s nothing but God. It’s a blessing for me to get this opportunity.

“Nothing is final. Every day I have to come out here with a worker’s mentality and keep putting my best foot forward and not get complacent.”

Before the Bombers called, before Washington had life breathed back into his football dream late last month, he was on to what he thought was his next chapter.

A motivational speaker, he had been part of a mission that took him to Jamaica to build homes. He still plans on starting a youth foundation with former Mizzou head coach, Gary Pinkel.

And then this – another shot at football, this time from the Bombers – happened.

“I didn’t tell anyone – my family, my brothers – I was here,” Washington said. “I told them I was gone for a while on business and that I’d be back.

“I’ve been to a few camps, you know? And I didn’t want to disappoint my family and if I made it I’d call them and say, ‘Hey, I made the team.’ So I called them Thursday (the date of the Bombers’ final preseason contest) and said, ‘Hey, this may be my final game so, watch.’ They said, ‘What?’ and I told them, ‘Yeah, I’ve been up in Canada.’ They saw the score.”

And the phone call he made on the weekend – telling his brothers that he had found a football home, as short-lived as they can be in this business – was so much different and so much more rewarding than so many of the others.

“I told them (I made it). We celebrated through the phone,” said Washington. “I’m here. I’m blessed.

“I appreciate life. Every day is a blessing, no matter what. Whether I get cut tomorrow, whether I make the team, I just know every day is a new day and I’ll continue to be positive because a negative attitude doesn’t do anything for anybody.”

BLUE NOTES: LB Maurice Leggett was not a participant at practice on Tuesday and head coach Mike O’Shea said the hope is to ease him back into the lineup… Also a spectator was defensive back Bruce Johnson, who played last week after being injured prior to the game, but was sporting a cast on his hand on Tuesday… The Bombers are said to be close to signing Canadian receiver Brett Blaszko, cut on the weekend by the B.C. Lions. A third-round draft pick last year by the Lions, Blaszko was the Canada West Rookie of the Year in 2012 and a CIS All-Canadian in 2014 with the Calgary Dinos. The club also worked out a couple other receivers and may sign another to round out their practice roster.