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Dewayne Washington, Steelers Cornerback, 1998-2003

November 27, 2011

Dewayne Washington:

First, can you tell readers about your work at the Carolina Skills Academy?

{Former Steeler} Charles Johnson and I started the academy to fill the gaps in fundamentals we saw in a lot of athletes here. You can have the talent but without the fundamentals – the techniques – you can’t let that talent shine. The academy helps kids fill that gap. Those fundamentals were the biggest things that got us where we are in the pros.

They sign up for two months at a time, two-to-three times per week and an hour each time. We drill them on fundamentals for middle school, high school and college players trying to make the NFL.

How has it been going?

I feel like it’s been a huge success for the kids that come through. How can you put football down for six months after the season ends and be a better player again in August?

We  explain that to the parents and they get it. From a fundamentals perspective, running and working out in the offseason keeps you in shape but it doesn’t make you a better player. If you can’t catch or cover before, you won’t be able to after without working on those fundamentals.

You’re essentially coaching as well as training. What coaches and coaching lessons do you find yourself applying as you work with these athletes?

Definitely, from Pop Warner to the NFL, I took something from every coach.

In Pittsburgh, Tim Lewis was my defensive backs coach and I had Tony Dungy in Minnesota. They all preached consistency. We all want the splash play but you need to be consistent.  Being a football player means knowing the fundamentals – that’s what lets you be consistent. Once the game started, I was doing it but didn’t know I was doing it. It just became second-nature.

You came to Pittsburgh in 2008 as a free agent. My guess is Pittsburgh’s offer wasn’t the biggest – what sold you on Pittsburgh?

(Laughing) Denver definitely offered more, yeah.  But I knew I had a chance to go and learn from some excellent backs in Pittsburgh like Darren Perry and Carnell Lake. I was in my fifth year but I was still trying to learn the game. I knew Lewis was a good coach too and Woodson just left so I was taking his place.

And Coach Cowher was definitely a bonus. It was good he was a fellow Wolfpacker!

I signed in the second week of free agency. It felt like two months! Jerome and me were good friends so it helped knowing him too. Pittsburgh were winners – I think they lost the season before in the AFC Championship. I was sold that they needed a cornerback to make the Super Bowl. I wanted to be that missing piece. We struggled a couple of years at first before we turned it around….

Who were the guys that helped take you under their wing as someone new to the team and city?

I had a family so I wasn’t hanging out with the guys at night a whole lot. Me, Jerome and Kordell all were good friends. And Chad Scott and I hit it off quickly and became good friends. We still are. We went through the same things as defensive backs – he was an excellent defensive back.

The team was able to keep things loose – how did they do so?

No question. It was pretty much the mentality of the Steelers. You fell in line quickly. Kirkland and Lake had fun during the day. When it came time to learn everything and get focused though we did it. Then all went on to having fun again after.

Who were some of the funnier guys?

There was lots of joking and a lot of competition. We’d compete at everything, We’d go to Dave and Busters and compete on the race cars. We’d play Nerf ball in the locker room – Playstation too.

(Laughing) Fred McAfee was the funniest guy ever in a locker room! He was so naturally funny. It was everything he said – the way he said it. He was so witty and quick – he was special!

Who were some of the toughest guys you faced in practice?

I was there when Hines was a rookie. Hines was a different player, you could tell. I’m not sure if he’d remember, but in his first practice, he lined up against me and I was playing bump and run. The first snap he came off the ball and knocked me down on my back. It threw me for a loop – I saw his strength. He came at me even though he was  a rookie to prove himself. That tells you about the guy’s mentality. He figured it out day one.

What are some of your greatest memories of being a Steeler?

Off the field – just the time in the locker room with the guys. And so many great games. The last game in Three Rivers…the first in Heinz Field. Getting so close to the Super Bowl but losing in the AFC Championship to New England…That stung for a while- it was the closest I ever got to the Super Bowl.

And the die-hard fans. I’ll never forget those people. They still all associate me with the Steelers even though I played just six years there. Many think the Steelers drafted me (laughing)!

How hard was it being released in 2003?

It was definitely hard to leave. It was my tenth year and it was tough. I saw myself finishing in Pittsburgh. When your game slips…it is what it is. I’ll be honest, I didn”t have a good year and the Steelers don’t hesitate to move forward. They just drafted Ike Taylor and had some guys they needed to play.

It’s always tough. It was home for me.  But that’s the nature of the business. I just wanted to win one. I was so happy for those guys in 2005 – many of those were the same guys.

What do you think of today’s NFL – would you have liked to play today?

Some of the calls…I would have gotten fined, definitely. The new rules make a number of cornerbacks hesitant – I see it. I definitely would have had issues hitting players and getting fined. And in my hand usage. I would have gotten more interference calls, for sure. No more small tugs on jerseys and using the hands…

As a former player, can you watch games and just be a fan?

If you played, you can’t stop analyzing the whole time. I can’t just watch without looking at the different splits and sets as if I were playing. Lots of times I call what’s going on!

But I’m definitely still a fan. My daughter gets on me for watching football all the time. Football is my life.

Any last thoughts for readers?

My time in Pittsburgh was very memorable. I’m indebted to the Rooney family. I always love to come back to Pittsburgh. People outside of Pittsburgh don’t always understand. I was inside of it all, and it’s a memory I will always cherish.

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