Elijah Washington plans professional football future, recounts his journey

portrait of Elijah Washington
Courtesy of Lewis & Clark

Elijah Washington ’24 is a running back and long snapper,  who just played his final season of college football at Lewis & Clark. 

Washington has had a long journey in football, playing for many teams at many levels. As he prepares for the next leg of his football career, he reflects on his time playing the sport, and how it led him here.

Washington has been playing football his entire life, which is why it was natural for him to decide it was his path as he was entering high school. He played all four years and was a starter on the varsity team for his junior and senior years. Going into college, he had hoped for an offer from a Division 1 school.

“My size, strength and speed at the time just weren’t up to that level — yet. I had a few Division 3 offers, and I ended up going to University of Laverne out of high school,” Washington said. “I rode the bench my first season — they already had two guys they were set on; I got in a few times but not as much as I’d liked to.”

Washington felt that he was not getting the opportunities at Laverne that he had expected, so he decided to move to College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA, where he spent one semester, not playing a season with them. 

“By the end of the summer with (College of the Canyons), they still had fourteen running backs. What I was chasing then was getting enough film to get looked at by the Division 1 level,” Washington said.

When players are hoping to transfer to a higher level, they try to get as much “film” or video content of themselves playing in games as possible, because that is what coaches look for. Without enough footage, many coaches will hesitate to take a risk on an athlete they have not seen play. 

Seeking more time on the field, which comes with valuable video footage, Washington transferred to Glendale Community College where he spent his sophomore season. 

“I got named All-State for JuCo, and I thought I would get some offers through that. My whole journey up to that point had been full of coaches who weren’t very invested in me and helping me get to the next level,” Washington said. “You need to be helped out coming from a smaller school; you need people to vouch for you.”

Due to National College Athletic Association (NCAA) rules, each player is only allowed to play for four years at NCAA schools. Many athletes who hope to transfer to larger programs may need more time or film to become an attractive prospect. JuCos, or Junior Colleges, are schools where players can continue to practice and hone their skills, as well as gather film, without losing valuable years of NCAA eligibility.

Washington then took a gap semester to focus on working and training. 

“I knew I still wanted to play football — it was still my dream. After that seven months, I had a couple of walk-on opportunities, but both fell through,” said Washington. “Then a buddy from high school, a receiver on Lewis & Clark’s team last season, told me to come here. I got in contact with the coaches and they really liked me so they brought me in. It’s been awesome ever since here.” 

Washington has played two seasons at LC, his most recent being the most exciting for him.

“I’ve had two amazing seasons; in my junior season I split time with Deante before he transferred to Oregon State, but this last season I had the backfield to myself,” said Washington. “I was really able to showcase what I could do if I got enough touches. (This last season) we had the best record we’ve had in conference in years — it felt good to help bring that back to LC football.”

Looking to the future, Washington hopes to make the NFL roster.

“Making an NFL roster would be a dream come true; it doesn’t really matter what team or where they’re at. Even if I got to a mini-camp and got the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do,” said Washington.

If he had to choose a team, though, the Dallas Cowboys is his ultimate dream, having been his favorite team for years.

Right now, Washington is training for his “pro day” — an event where athletes showcase their skills in hopes of being seen by a scout and selected for the draft. Even if not selected for the draft, teams can “sign” players to their roster, but will start making cuts as the season draws nearer. Being signed is not a guarantee of success, but it is certainly a great way to get on the NFL coaches’ radar and be seen as a “pro-ready prospect.”

If the NFL does not pan out, he has backup options.

“If I don’t make it to the NFL, there are a lot of other leagues, such as the CFL — the Canadian Football League — and the UFL, which is a combination of the two spring leagues. There are a lot of different avenues for me, and other leagues can all be ways to get to the NFL. The dream is not dead if it doesn’t happen this time,” said Washington.

With his final college football season over, Washington’s work to go pro is just beginning. His perseverance is an inspiration to any athlete who feels they have the skills to play their sport professionally. 

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