IRVING, Texas -- L'Damian Washington got a cruel taste of the NFL earlier this month.
Projected as a late round draft pick coming out of Missouri, Washington caught 59 passes for 692 yards with three touchdowns. NFL scouts said the biggest issues with him were his slim size and that he catches the ball with his body instead of his hands.
At his pro day, Washington ran a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash, made catches with his hands and ran good routes.
It wasn't good enough because he wasn't drafted.
“I know [the draft] weekend hurt us as a family,” Washington said. “It’s my job to kinda get that faith back on the run we suffered for so long. We thought that past weekend we could finally start off to a better life. But we had to start at zero. Being an undrafted free agent ain't easy and making the team is very slim. Right now I got to keep my head on right.”
When the draft ended, there were many offers, but the contract from the Dallas Cowboys meant more to him.
Washington felt moved to sign with the Cowboys, despite better financial offers from other teams, because his three brothers in Shreveport, La., were fans of the team.
Another factor was Derek Dooley, the Cowboys' wide receivers coach.
When Washington was a high school senior, Dooley, then the head coach at Louisiana Tech got a verbal commitment from him. Washington’s brothers felt it was best to play at a bigger school, so he backed out of the commitment and went to Missouri.
Washington’s story, however, stuck with Dooley and many others.
His father was killed when he was 5, his mother died as a result of a blood clot when he was 15. His brothers decided to remain together and financial hardships struck the family. The brothers moved from apartment to apartment. Washington said there were days when he would come home from college and stayed in a hotel because there wasn’t enough room for him at home. Sometimes the lights would go off from lack of payment.
Washington kept his dream alive of getting drafted by a NFL team as a motivation.
Most, if not all, prospective college players have that dream. That somebody cares about them enough to make a phone call to New York and announce their name at Radio City Music Hall.
Nobody felt that way about Washington.
He thought the pro day would help him.
“If I perform well at pro day, it’s a new life,” Washington said in a 10-minute documentary on Grantland.com.
His life remained the same. Hard.
Dooley remembered the 6-4, 188-pound wide receiver and encouraged the Cowboys to sign him. Dooley told the team about Washington's talent level on the field and the home visit during that senior year in high school. Dooley said the home visit lasted eight hours, the longest home visit he ever had.
“It was emotional and I walked out of there saying how could I complain about anything again?” Dooley said.
The Cowboys have other receivers on Washington’s level that he needs to beat out. Maybe he makes the roster as a special teams guy, despite, a slender frame that doesn’t seem suited to make tackles while running down the field.
Maybe he makes another team or the Cowboys bring him back to the practice squad so he can earn just under $100,000.
“I feel blessed and cursed to be honest with you,” he said. “I feel blessed ‘cause I’m in this position and I feel cursed because I have to take the hard road every time. I’m up for it, I’m good for it. I don’t think it can be done any other way.”
“He’s given me a lot more than I’ve given him,” Dooley said.
Washington isn’t just playing for himself. He’s playing for three brothers looking for hope in a desperate financial situation. During rookie minicamp, Washington said he wasn’t sure if the lights were on again.
“My mother instilled at me in a young age what it meant to be a man, just to be a stand up guy,” he said. “I don’t look at my story as a curse or anything. I know what’s at stake here. My three brothers are waiting on me to bring the meal.”