ORDER THE PRINT VERSION AT
STANDOUT RUNNING BACK ROBERT WASHING- ton plays every game like it’s his last because, to him, it’s not a cliché. He has the scars to prove just how lucky he is to even be playing football.
Lined up and down his chest, the scars are a reminder
he’s lucky to still be alive after undergoing heart surgery
when he was 12.
“I mean it’s scary when you’re a grown man, so definitely
for a 12-year-old kid to go through it, it was definitely hard. I
was crying. People were telling me, ‘You might die, you might
not play football anymore,’” said Washington, who is one
of the nation’s best high school running backs entering his
senior season. “But I’m glad I went through it.”
HEARING THE NEWS
WASHINGTON WAS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL AT THE TIME,
visiting at friend Will Grier’s house and getting ready for
the upcoming football season when the now-Florida Gator
quarterback, his brother, their dad and Washington went up
the road to get their physicals. The Griers checked out fine.
But Washington had a heart
murmur, which wasn’t news
to him. He had known about
that. This time, though, the
doctors urged him to get it
checked. For the first time,
Washington got an ultrasound
on his heart. The findings
“Every year I knew I had
Washington’s doctors told him this went beyond football.
to get it checked out,”
Washington said. “We got
an ultrasound and they said
His right coronary artery
was squeezed through two
blood leaflets. If he overexerted, there was always going to
be a chance the leaflets would expand, crush the artery and
They gave him a chilling, down-the-road hypothetical: He
could one day, with his own family, die while simply chasing
his son or daughter up the stairs.
There was also a chance something could go wrong in
surgery, but a second opinion and then a third, all agreed he
needed to have the surgery.
“I was scared out of my mind,” Washington recalled.
The wait before surgery at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical
Center meant Washington had to look at himself differently.
If surgery went wrong, would he go to heaven? He now reads
his Bible every night.
“It really gives you a value of life. Life ends at any moment.
I never even knew I had that [condition]. I was born with that.
I had been [playing football] for years and at any moment
that could’ve been it [for me]. I would’ve been done,”
Washington said. “So it really got me closer with God, really. I
started praying more.”
Washington was out of the hospital three days later and
took 10 weeks to recover, two more than prescribed just to
FOOTBALL WAS STILL IMPORTANT TO WASHINGTON
following the surgery, but in a different light.
He considers everything in football a blessing, right down
to being able to wear the fancy equipment. He also walks a
fine line between understanding that anything could happen,
that life is short and playing careers are shorter, and not
letting that knowledge deter him from what’s ahead.
“I approach every Friday night like this could be my last
A new chapter in his life’s journey was beginning:
night playing football ever. I could break my leg, maybe
this surgery didn’t work out, maybe I had a complication,”
Washington said. “So I play full out to my ability. I don’t worry
about what could happen. I let it happen.”
A few months after his surgery, he was invited to an
All-American game for seventh-graders (yes; that actually
exists). He stood out, rushing for more than 100 yards.
“I stood out and that’s how I got my name on the map,”
Ole Miss, looking to make a splash under then first-year
head coach Hugh Freeze, offered Washington a scholarship
as an eighth-grader, and nobody was more dumbfounded
“I hadn’t even touched a high school field. I mean what if I
sucked in high school?” Washington said.
But that soon switched to motivation.
He looked up what an athletic scholarship would cost the
Full Speed Ahead
SCARS REMIND ROBERT WASHINGTON
HOW FRAGILE LIFE IS
BY J. MIKE BLAKE
After a serious health scare
earlier in his life, Robert
Washington (right) has a
unique perspective on life
Washington is one of the
nation’s most sought-after running backs.