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