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Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

MU's L'Damian Washington draws strength from his shattering childhood

12/04/2013 1:07 PM

12/04/2013 1:07 PM

If you want to know where the acute senses of compassion and sheer emotional strength in Mizzou receiver L’Damian Washington came from, the character that allowed him to lead the way in consoling kicker Andrew Baggett after Mizzou’s 27-24 double overtime loss to South Carolina, you need look only to how he overcame the shattering circumstances of his childhood.

It’s from where he started to where he is now that led to Washington on Wednesday being named the weekly nominee for the 2013 Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award to be announced at the end of the season.

When Washington was 5 years old and growing up in Shreveport, La., his father was shot and killed. Ten years later, his mother died from complications of a blood clot after collapsing at one of his basketball games.

That night at the hospital, the orphaned Washington and his two older and one younger brother held one another and vowed they would never be separated.

That meant a lot of complicated and hard times. Food could be scarce, and utilities were shut off more than once. They had to battle to resist being put in foster homes or being separated among relatives.

But the thoughtful Washington somehow not only survived but thrived in school and in football. When he graduated from high school, the town declared a day in his honor and gave him a key to the city.

So seeking to honor the vow that night at the hospital and care especially for the youngest brother meant it wasn’t easy for Washington to go as far away as Columbia for college, where he arrived as a wisp ready to devour any food he could get.

On Christmas break his freshman year, Washington reminisced recently, he went as far as calling then-receivers coach Andy Hill to tell him he wasn’t going to come back.

But Washington ultimately was persuaded that it was in the best interests of all for him to complete his education.

And now he’s also emerged as a senior captain who leads the Tigers with 635 yards with eight touchdowns on 33 receptions.

The measure of who he is, though, extends well beyond the football field.

There will be plenty of worthy competition for the award, but I'll have a vote and it's hard to imagine it going to anyone but him.


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