When the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for the first time in 2018, there’s a pretty good chance that rookie wide receiver James Washington will be one of the 11 men jogging out from the sideline for the first snap. As with most teams, the Steelers primarily run out of three-receiver sets, and the expectation is for Washington to be that third receiver.
Endearing himself to his new coach doesn’t hurt his chances. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, in his first season with the Steelers but coming in with a lengthy and impressive resume, spoke glowingly during minicamp of the second-round pick out of Oklahoma State.
The biggest thing that impressed Drake about Washington, he said, is that “he’s willing”, meaning that he will always give his full effort to everything you ask of him. “He puts in the time. What a great young man he is, just a special young man. Again, that’s the joy of coaching when you got young men like that”.
To say that having something like him around is what makes his job enjoyable is a pretty significant thing to say, in my mind, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that Washington is going to be a great wide receiver in the NFL just because his position coach likes having him around. He really likes having Darrius Heyward-Bey around, too.
So do I, for the record.
It’s not hard to figure out where Washington gets his work ethic from. He grew up on a farm, and still considers himself a farmer. Farming might not quite be what it was in the 19th century, the dawn to dusk workday full of backbreaking labor—much of that has been replaced by science and technology. But the work ethic perseveres.
He probably won’t have to farm ever again in his life thanks to the fortunes he stands to make as an NFL player—and the Steelers have a pretty good track record of getting receivers to make bank, even with other teams (see Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, and really, I could go on).
Instead of picking crops out of the ground, he will be picking passes out of the air from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, at least from September through February, or so it’s hoped. He can use his free time during the offseason for harvesting, if he so chooses.
In the meantime, he is just settling down into his new home in Pittsburgh, and in the wide receivers room, where he says it’s a fun place to be. “There’s never a dull moment with Coach Drake and the receivers”, he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying the process”.