Rookie Demond Washington is in the battle of his life at Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp right now, battling for a job where the Bombers have almost an embarrassment of riches at defensive back.
But as so often happens in pro sports, real life intruded over the weekend to offer Washington some perspective on the battles in life that really matter.
Washington's alma mater, Auburn, you see, was rocked on Saturday with the shooting deaths of three people, including two former Auburn football players, at a party near the university campus.
The two dead players -- former offensive lineman Edward Christian and former fullback Ladarious Phillips -- were friends of Washington's.
"I played with them and they were my friends," Washington said following practice on Monday. "It's devastating for their families and for the whole Auburn family.
"They were all like brothers to me on that team," said Washington. "My heart goes out to their families."
Washington won a national championship with Auburn in 2010 but the task in front of him this month is almost as formidable -- trying to win a job in a Bombers secondary that was the best in the CFL in 2011.
While Washington has had an exceptional camp so far -- he's fast, he's made a string of nice interceptions and has also shown an aptitude as a punt returner -- he's very unlikely to unseat incumbent import defensive backs Alex Suber, Brandon Stewart, Jonathan Hefney and the 2011 CFL defensive player of the year, Jovon Johnson.
And so a more realistic goal for an import rookie like Washington this season might be as a backup DB. But even that's going to be a tough task in a camp where veteran imports Deon Beasley, Johnny Sears and Darrell Pasco are also battling for a backup job.
Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said Monday the team will likely keep at least two of those four players -- and possibly three of those four -- for the regular season. But all four? Not going to happen. "I don't see how we can," said Burke, "and that's the hard thing. I think they're all good players, but not everyone's going to be able to make it."
Like Washington, Pasco and Sears have also had strong camps, while Beasley -- who dressed in all 18 regular-season games for Winnipeg in 2011 and started three of them -- has missed some practices with what he describes as an assortment of minor injuries. "It's just little tweaks and things that most corners and DB's get. And the cold weather -- I'm from the south and it doesn't get this cold," Beasley said Monday. "But it's nothing major."
Beasley says he knows he's being challenged for his job and says he's up to the task. "It's a lot of competition. But that's what I come here for. I'm a competitive person, I'm a competitive player. And when you're a DB, you have to be confident.
"It is what is. I'll work, I'll play, I'll do my part. And at the end of the day, the best man should play."
All of which is pretty much the same thing Washington says. "It's tough but you have to go out there and compete. That's all the game of football is -- competing and having fun. And that's what I'm out there doing."