By Jeff Nations
It would appear that the Philadelphia Eagles have firmly put "The Future" into the past.
Among the assorted undrafted rookies, fringe free agents and low-depth chart veterans cut loose by Philadelphia on Saturday was former Sherando High School standout Kelley Washington. Battling for Philadelphia's fifth and final wide receiver spot, Washington was apparently beat out by fellow veteran Hank Baskett.
Despite coming off arguably a career year last season with the Baltimore Ravens (career highs with 34 catches and 431 receiving yards, along with two TDs), Washington was never a sure bet to make the Eagles' final roster after signing a one-year free-agent deal in July.
Even Washington realized that much, as he stated in an interview with PhiladelphiaEagles.com posted Friday following a characteristically solid performance on special teams. "I could help them out playing special teams a lot ... but that's something for the coaches and the organization to determine.
"If it doesn't happen here, hopefully it will happen somewhere else. That's all part of the business."
Whether Washington gets another chance on another NFL roster, or perhaps a recall at some point this season with the Eagles, his has been an interesting career to say the least. At Sherando, Washington was a dynamic, though undersized, two-way starter as a quarterback and defensive back. With Washington leading the way, the Warriors reached the Group AA, Division 4 state championship game in both 1995 and 1996. Washington passed for 20 touchdowns and intercepted nine balls from his safety position for that 1996 squad. It wasn't enough to bring the major-college recruiters calling to Stephens City, so Washington opted to sign a professional baseball contract with the Florida Marlins.
Four years later, he decided to give football another shot. Washington left the Marlins to search for a roster spot on a college football team. Washington, who once counted Hofstra as a top destination for his football career, had grown considerably during his time in baseball. Then-Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer, who had agreed to take a look at Washington as a potential walk-on, was stunned by the 6-foot-3, 215-pound physical specimen the former Sherando star had become. Washington starred during his one full season with the Volunteers, hauling in 70 catches for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns as a 22-year old freshman in 2001.
Just like that, Washington went from obscure walk-on to ESPN the Magazine cover-boy, where he revealed his new "The Future" nickname. The future almost never happened, again, when Washington got hurt after opting to return to Tennessee for a second season. A knee injury and a concussion limited him to four games that season, and afterward Washington underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck.
Still, Washington had high hopes entering the 2003 NFL draft, where he was generally considered a late first to early second-round pick. Washington held a neighborhood draft-day party at his mother's house in Stephens City that day, and it turned out to be a long one for all involved. As the day wore on, it became evident that his stock had fallen considerably in the draft.
He did eventually get picked, going in the third round (65th overall) to the Cincinnati Bengals, where Washington joined a talented receiving corps which included Chad Ochocinco (back then, just plain old Chad Johnson) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Washington had 31 catches that season, including four TDs which allowed for the introduction of his "The Squirrel" end zone celebration. "The Squirrel" proved to be a fairly rare animal, though, and Washington left the Bengals after four relatively modest seasons of production. He signed on with the New England Patriots, and disappeared from the offensive statistics over the next two years. But Washington was making a name for himself as a special teams standout, a gunner with the speed to get downfield quickly and a knack for making a big play. Washington spent two seasons in New England and earned a Super Bowl ring. Released by the Patriots after the 2008 season, Washington seemed to find a home last year with the Ravens. Instead, he was on the move again in the off-season and landed in Philadelphia.
Whether or not that proves to be Washington's final stop, the former Sherando star that couldn't get a second look from college football's elite programs has certainly had the last laugh -- a respectable seven-year NFL career and one very impressive hunk of jewelry to go with it. Throughout his career, Washington has made time to return home to Frederick County to host his yearly "Futures Football Camp." Here's hoping that camp still has a future, along with Washington's NFL career. It's been an inspiring story, and there may well be more left to write.