BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In the beginning, LSU senior offensive lineman Evan Washington was all about basketball. Washington prepped at DeSoto High School in Texas and apparently was a baller.
"If you guys would've seen Evan in high school, he was a monster," says LSU junior defensive back Jalen Mills, who also attended DeSoto. "You got a guy the size he is, with spin moves, dunks, shooting threes...everything. It was unreal."
"I'd say I was pretty good," Washington concurs, "I was all-district and all-region. My junior year we won state and I was the starting center."
However Washington's father Marvin, an 11-year NFL veteran with the 49ers, Broncos and Jets, wasn't enamored with his son's progress. The former defensive end told Evan he needed to grow as a person. Literally.
"He said if I wasn't 6'9 by my junior year, I had to try out for the football team." laughs Washington.
Evan only reached 6'6 and a career on the gridiron begun. Despite only playing two years of organized football, he became a four-star recruit by Rivals and was then signed by Les Miles. But after his first three seasons with the LSU football program, it appeared changing sports might have been a bad move. Washington redshirted during the 2010 season and then broke his foot during the Tigers' 2011 fall camp, tearing a ligament that wiped out that entire year also. It was at that point Evan started getting down on himself and making poor decisions.
"When you have a broke foot, it makes it hard to get around sometimes. It's a lot easier to say - 'Nah, I'm not going to class today' - and miss class and stay in." Washington recalls.
And not getting to the classroom led to some obvious consequences. Washington was ruled academically ineligible for the 2012 LSU campaign and his Tiger career certainly appeared to be going nowhere fast.
"When you're hurt, sometimes you don't feel like you're part of the team. So it was a bad time, a rough time. And you're sitting at home thinking - 'I'm not playing football anyway, why go to class?' It was just the wrong decision."
But through that pain, embarrassment and frustration came growth. And a new sense of purpose.
"It was a tough time," says Washington, "One of the toughest times of my life. But it turned me into a man. Rough times come to an end and everything gets better."
In 2013 Washington finally started turning the corner. He saw action in 13 games for LSU that season, including one start versus Furman. Against Auburn he filled in for the talented but injured Trai Turner at right guard, playing 58 big snaps in Tiger Stadium. The 35-21 triumph was likely the highlight of LSU's year, as they whipped an Auburn squad that went on to win the SEC title and reach the BCS national championship game. With Washington's help, LSU rushed for 228 yards and four touchdowns during that rainy night.
"We had a couple of big runs in that game," Washington remembers happily, "And it was a great moment for me at Death Valley."
But you could say the biggest victory in Washington's career, would soon take place off the field. The guy once too irresponsible and careless to give school it's proper attention, graduated from LSU in December of 2013 with a degree in sports administration.
"Two years ago, I would've never thought I would've graduated," beams Washington, "Coming from being ineligible, you had to work really hard to get back into class. I just got refocused on class and rededicated to that, to academics. And I ended up graduating a semester early."
Washington says younger LSU players and future Tigers student can learn from his mistakes and then the example he's set. And there's plenty of advice to give.
"Go to class every day and just be a student first. Everybody comes here to play football, but, it doesn't always work out for everyone. A degree is something they can't take from you. They can take your knees. Football is a devastating sport. You may not be able to walk again, but they can't take your degree. Great football players are done at 35. And most people live to 80 so go to school."
Washington's senior season has been the most impactful on the field, playing 238 snaps and registering 10.5 knock downs. He's played in a total of nine games and started the last two, including a 23-17 Thanksgiving night win at Texas A&M. It was particularly satisfying for Washington to win that affair near his old stomping grounds.
"Going home to play against Texas A&M, that was my favorite moment," Washington says, "My last regular season game and it was in front of friends and family, close to home."
"As soon as we got into the stadium, his whole demeanor changed," Mills remembers, "His facial expression, to how he was walking around. Everything changed. "
The manner in which LSU won, was also especially gratifying.
"Rushing for almost 400 yards," he smiles broadly, "It was a good night."
Washington's LSU playing career now comes to end Tuesday afternoon against Notre Dame in The Music City Bowl. The heartfelt emotions are certainly begin to circle and twirl.
"This is my last game in an LSU jersey. It's going to be sad in the end, but I'm going to not think about it until after the game. I'm just trying to enjoy my last moment with the team. It's the last time, last few practices with my family, my team. And it's coming to an end."
Washington says he's forever grateful for the journey. And the emotional lessons learned along the way through failures and triumphs.