Last season, Demond Washington arrived in the CFL with fiery feet and shaky hands and ready to do anything to win, to go wherever the coach wanted him.
For a time in 2012, Washington did it all for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was a beast on so many kick and punt returns -- blazing through 2,011 yards, third in the league -- and bounced around the defence as well, spending time at cornerback and halfback before settling in behind the strong side of the defensive line.
At the time, it seemed like a lot for a first-year pro to tackle, especially as the 25-year-old struggled to get his hands as poised as his feet -- there were, sometimes, too many fumbles. But Washington threw himself into each role with aplomb, and what he learned then, he said, helped put him in a position this season to win Jonathan Hefney's old job.
"Coaches, they moved me around a lot," Washington said after practice Tuesday, in the lilting accent born of his youth in southern Alabama. "Last year was like a learning stage. I had to learn a whole lot of positions. That kind of handed me a curve in learning one position. But the same time, this year it helped me out, because I know what everyone is doing now."
Since Hefney was booted from the club last month, Washington has clinched the boundary halfback job, bracing himself next to defensive star Jovon Johnson. The new responsibility means the Bombers will keep him off of kick returns -- Will Ford is handling those duties -- but already he's shown sparks of the returner he can be, delivering a Montreal Alouettes punt 80 yards last Thursday for a touchdown and Winnipeg's first lead of the game.
Still, after the Bombers lost that match, Washington shrugged off praise, saying he would rather have been celebrating a win. By Tuesday, he'd already forgotten about it. "That game is behind us," Washington said. "I'm just focused on the next game, trying to come in and do better than I did last time."
In the rematch against the Alouettes in Montreal Thursday, Washington will likely see more special teams work than last. In the season opener, coaches tapped Johnson for four of five punt returns to take some pressure off Washington in his defensive start. This week, they're likely to split those duties.
While coaches looked to let Washington focus more on one job, the back said being part of a "one-two punch" on punt returns will only boost his regular field duties. "Once you get a good punt return in, you get amped up," he said. "You want to go out there and do your best on defence, too."
On that note, hopefully someone special will get to see Washington do his best in one of these games. He was just a boy, seven or eight years old, when he caught an NFL game on TV and told his mother he was going to be a football player. "She said 'I'm not going to let my baby play!' " Washington said, his voice rising to mimic maternal worry. "But she let me play one season... and I've been there ever since."
Now, no doubt, that decision has made her proud, though she has yet to see her son play the Canadian pro game.
"She's terrified of flying," he laughed. "I'm trying to still get her up here, so if all the fans can tell her to come up here, hopefully we can get her up."