Dreams Do Come True
Nov. 9, 2001
Seven months ago, former University of Virginia football player Patrick Washington found himself working in the UVa Athletic Media Relations office, drawing a modest salary as a student intern. He was responsible for maintaining the department’s web site, and otherwise promoting Virginia sports. Less than a year later, Washington is the starting fullback for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. He has traded in his student internship for a professional football career, and a modest hourly wage for an NFL salary.
“There’s a little bit more money now than [when I worked in the media relations office],” Washington says. “I just feel blessed. I try to keep a level head about [the NFL] and just look at it as a job that I have to do.”
Washington’s story is truly a remarkable one. News of his ascendance to a starting job in the NFL may catch Virginia supporters by surprise. Given Washington’s work ethic throughout his UVa career, however, his professional success is not alarming.
Washington was never a star at UVa. He served primarily as a lead blocker for All-Atlantic Coast Conference performers Thomas Jones and Antwoine Womack, drawing his coaches’ praise, but never garnering much national attention. The road to the NFL, then, was obstacle-laden at best. Even when Washington signed a free-agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was one of three fullbacks vying for one position. Of course, the long odds were just one more hurdle Washington had to clear in order to realize his lifelong dream.
“Going into the NFL workouts I didn’t know what to expect,” Washington says. “I went into the situation [in Jacksonville] with nothing to lose. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. Everything I learned at Virginia and from the coaches at UVa that really helped me in camp.”
Once Washington arrived in Jacksonville, he vowed to do everything he could to make the Jaguars’ roster. As far as he was concerned, as long as he gave it his all, he would be happy no matter what the result.
“Every time I had a chance to prove myself, I made sure I wouldn’t have any regrets, because if you don’t give it everything you have [and you don’t make it], it will just eat you up inside,” Washington says.
His resolve paid off when he was named to Jacksonville’s roster.
“I think [my approach] is what helped me win the job,” Washington says. “I really gave it all I had in camp.”
Washington continued to work hard throughout the preseason. He learned the offense quickly, and adjusted to the rigors of NFL life. The same hard work and perseverance that took him from collegiate obscurity to the NFL helped him earn a starting job. Washington played throughout the exhibition season, getting his feet wet in the NFL. There was no more exciting day for Washington, however, than his first regular season game, when he realized his preparation for the draft and commitment in camp had given him an opportunity to run out on the field as a bonafide professional football player.
“I remember the first regular season game,” Washington says. ” I was real emotional. It was something I dreamed about and thought about ever since I was a kid.
“You dream about it and think about it every day, but you never know whether it’s going to happen to you. When it finally happens, you just feel so blessed.”
While Washington is the lone member of the Virginia football class of 2000 to be starting in the NFL, he has not lost touch with his former UVa teammates and friends. The nucleus of the 2000 squad, including former Cavalier tight end Billy Baber and linebacker Byron Thweatt, prepared together for the NFL draft (Baber was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and is currently on their practice squad, while Thweatt was recently picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Those workouts, Washington says, brought an already tight-knit group of players even closer together. The amount of pressure associated with a quest for a position on an NFL roster has the potential to create a hyper-competitive environment. But Washington insists that was not the case with his Cavalier teammates.
“We were already pretty close,” Washington says. “Trying to get ready [for the NFL draft] brought us even closer together.
“I really never thought ‘I’m going to be the one that makes it’. I wanted everyone to get an opportunity and I wanted everyone to make it. I just happened to be the one who was lucky enough to find a team that needed a starting fullback.”
It was not only the situation Washington found in Jacksonville that gave him his big break. He created his own luck by remaining dedicated to the mission of landing an NFL contract throughout the process.
“It has been crazy,” Washington says. “It was like a roller coaster ride. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Of course, the battle is far from over for the rookie fullback. The demands of staying on top of his game force Washington to continue to work hard every day. NFL athletes are stronger and faster than their college counterparts, and the offenses require more rapid retention.
“The speed of the players and the speed at which you have to learn things [is much different than in college],” Washington says. You have to be able to pick it up and retain it and keep pushing yourself every day.”
After all, there is another crop of college players eagerly eyeing an NFL roster spot, poised to make the same kind of commitment that allowed Washington to make his dream a reality.