Bombers’ Wash­ing­ton eyes re­turn to lineup

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - JEFF HAMILTON jeff.hamilton@freep­ress.mb.ca Twit­ter: @jef­fkhamil­ton

IT hasn’t been easy for L’Damian Wash­ing­ton to watch from the side­lines, even if his team­mates have been on a roll.

While the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers are 10-4 and are primed to make the play­offs for a sec­ond straight year, it’s been three months since Wash­ing­ton has truly felt a part of that suc­cess.

“It hasn’t been easy,” the rookie re­ceiver said fol­low­ing prac­tice Thurs­day at In­vestors Group Field.

“There’s been times where it’s got tough and I kind of wanted to walk away, but thanks to the sup­port of my team­mates, they made sure I kept my head in it.”

Wash­ing­ton, 26, had a strong start to his CFL ca­reer, im­press­ing the coach­ing staff in train­ing camp enough to earn a start­ing role with the of­fence. He seemed des­tined for a big year, reel­ing in a touch­down in his first game to help Win­nipeg de­feat the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers in the sea­son opener.

But his num­bers started to dip over the next two games, with Wash­ing­ton col­lect­ing just two more re­cep­tions for 21 yards. The Bombers as­signed him to the prac­tice ros­ter, where he re­mained be­fore sur­fac­ing in a more promis­ing role this week.

“You wake up, you punch the clock and you come and grind hard, and we all want a pay­day,” Wash­ing­ton said. “And that pay­day isn’t in the form of money, it’s the chance to show­case your abil­i­ties. Mostly for your fam­ily, to give them some­thing to be proud of, give some­thing to your team­mates to make you feel like one of the guys.

“When you’re not do­ing that, tough,” he said.

“But with great coaches and team­mates and fam­ily mem­bers to lean on, peo­ple who still be­lieve in you, it makes it a whole lot eas­ier to get up and go to work.”

To be sure, Wash­ing­ton isn’t feel­ing sorry for him­self. Though many view the chance to fill any role on a pro­fes­sional foot­ball team as a priv­i­lege, one’s will is cer­tainly tested on the prac­tice ros­ter. While play­ers who make the 46-man ros­ter each game are paid their full salary, those lim­ited to the PR are paid a few hun­dreds dol­lars a week as they work to get back into the mix.

“It isn’t easy to come to work ev­ery day when you’ve got a taste up on the ros­ter or even when you’re sit­ting back and you haven’t got your shot yet this year,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said.

“They’ve got to have that char­ac­ter and that mind­set that they are work­ing to­wards some­thing.

“They have to rely on the coach­ing staff for feed­back and good in­for­ma­tion that al­lows them to get bet­ter ev­ery week, even if they’re not step­ping on the play­ing field on game day. They have to rely on their team­mates and sort of fo­cus on that joy of the priv­i­lege of play­ing foot­ball and be­ing on a pro­fes­sional foot­ball team.”

Wash­ing­ton said he al­most hit a point where he felt his best op­tion was to leave. It was around that time cor­ner­back Chris Ran­dle and de­fen­sive tackle Drake Ne­vis, notic­ing Wash­ing­ton was in a rut, ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion. Ev­ery day they go to Bi­ble study at 2:30 p.m., and they thought it would help give Wash­ing­ton some per­spec­tive. It worked.

“From that mo­ment, I saw things tran­scend and get bet­ter for me,” Wash­ing­ton said

“Right now, all I’m hop­ing for is an op­por­tu­nity. If not, I’ll keep cheer­ing on for my team.”

That op­por­tu­nity could be this week. With re­ceiver We­ston Dressler out and run­ning back Ti­mothy Flan­ders a game-time de­ci­sion, Wash­ing­ton has taken reps with the first-team of­fence. He doesn’t know if he’ll crack the lineup, but if he does, he plans to make the most of it.

“It still may not be my chance this week but when­ever that op­por­tu­nity comes it’s just good to know I have team­mates and coaches that still be­lieve in me,” he said.

Mean­while, de­fen­sive end Trent Cor­ney and spe­cial teamer Mike Miller, both of whom suf­fered lower-body in­juries in last week’s 30-13 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, have been cleared to play and will be in the lineup Satur­day when the Bombers host the B.C. Lions.

Ja­maal Wester­man, who has spent the past two weeks back home in New Jer­sey re­cov­er­ing from a sea­son-end­ing, up­per-body in­jury, also re­turned to the club Thurs­day. He’ll re­main with the team in a sup­port role.

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JUSTIN TANG / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

An in­jury kept Saskatchewan’s Kienan LaFrance (cen­tre) off the game-day ros­ter for the first four games of the sea­son.

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