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Working the farm helped to forge the mettle of Steelers’ rookie James Washington

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Hours of experience in the rigors of farm work, plus exceptional athleticism, translate to this rookie’s outstanding potential and fans’ great expectations heading into the 2018 season.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

On his blog, ESPN Staff Writer Jeremy Fowler penned a brief profile of Steelers’ rookie wide receiver James Washington which offers a glimpse of what fans can expect from the Oklahoma State University (OSU) product in 2018 and beyond. In particular, Washington’s upbringing speaks of a rock-solid work ethic, honed during countless hours spent helping his father on the family farm in Lexington, TX.

Describing himself as the “workhorse” of this father/son tandem, Washington was tasked with many of the heavier tasks associated with operating the farm. This included jobs such as changing bulky tractor tires and making mechanical repairs to farm equipment. And according to OSU wide-receivers coach Kasey Dunn, Washington’s hardscrabble background left an indelible mark on his character. “There’s no flash about the kid at all. You talk about people having swag and all. He had zero swag. I mean, none. His swag was definitely after the snap of the ball,” said Dunn in a September 2016 interview with The O’Colly, an online, OSU student media publication.

Also in the O’Colly interviews, Jeremy West, offensive coordinator for Washington’s high school team, the Stamford (TX) Bulldogs, underscored this down-to-earth profile of the Steelers’ second-round pick. “What you see is what you get with James,” West said. “It’s not an act. He acts that way every day. He did it when he was in middle school. He did it when he was in high school, before he ever caught a touchdown pass. That’s the kind of kid James Washington is, and 10 years from now, he’s still gonna be that same guy. He was a role model for our guys even before he left.”

While character is always a plus in any profession, it was Washington’s exceptional athleticism which prompted a contingent of the Steelers’ top brass, including Head Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert, to attend OSU’s Pro Day back in mid-March to take a closer look at Washington and his QB Mason Rudolph, the two players they’d later select in the second and third rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

The humility Washington shows as a person is in stark contrast to his confidence as a player. Washington certainly doesn’t shrink from playing under the big spotlight. At the Senior Bowl in January, for example, Washington created the buzz which spurred heightened interest from NFL scouting departments leading up to the Draft. As reported in an article by Scott Wright on newsok.com, the speed of the Steelers’ rookie was the quality that really stood out.

“He won the vast majority of his matchups and was uncoverable down the field,” wrote CBS Sports NFL Draft writer Chris Trapasso. “He has an extra gear unlike any other wideout at this year’s Senior Bowl.”

Zebra Technologies, a firm that utilizes Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on footballs to collect real-time location and speed data to measure various player analytics, pronounced Washington as the fastest player on the Senor Bowl field. Washington was clocked at 21.25 mph during one of the pre-game practices, which is within a whisker of Leonard Fournette who, according to NexGen Stats, was the fastest NFL ball carrier (at 22.05 mph) in games played during the 2017 season.

This is the impressive package of character and athletic talent which Steelers Nation will begin to unwrap when the Steelers arrive at training camp later this month. Based on everything we know about Washington, and combined with his talented teammates in the Steelers’ wide receiver corps, he very well might provide that extra dimension which makes the difference during the upcoming season.