MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Tony Washington is the newest member of the WVU coaching staff. The receivers coach comes to Morgantown after spending two seasons at the same position at Coastal Carolina.
Washington has only been in the Mountain State for a few months, so he and his family are currently occupying a rental property while their new home is being built. This may seem totally normal, but for Washington, having a hand in building his future home is how he keeps a past dream alive.
As a student-athlete at Appalachian State, he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in architecture & design technology and construction management.
“Everyone knows Appalachian State is a football school, but when I was there it was FCS, so that dream of going to the NFL, it was out there, but it wasn’t really attainable,” Washington said. “I thought that’s what I wanted to do, build buildings and design houses. Then I had an opportunity to play in the NFL for a few years and I realized the game was in me and didn’t want to leave it alone, didn’t want to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers for the rest of my life, so I decided to get into coaching.”
While playing in the National Football League was something he never envisioned, it did become his reality rather quickly. After graduating in 2013, Washington enjoyed a stint with the Indianapolis Colts before playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2014-16. He was acquired by the New England Patriots in 2017.
“I remember the first call I got from an agent before my senior year. I was filling out grad school applications. I was going to go to grad school for architecture. I had kind of given up on the NFL dream. I was focusing on what’s next,” Washington said. “I got a call and then realized maybe this is a possibility. Got a call my senior year, had a great senior year and then had the opportunity to play with the Colts as a priority free agent, and it just took off from there.”
It was during that time in the NFL that Washington suffered a setback that ultimately turned out to be the reason he ended up in the coaching profession. After enduring back-to-back injuries, he had a conversation with his receivers coach at the time. The comments from that coach changed the course of his future.
“This wasn’t a dream of mine. I never thought I would be sitting in front of you guys coaching,” Washington said. “My wide receivers coach at the time said ‘man, you should get into coaching. You are a smart guy, love the game, you are a good player.’ He’s the first person who ever put it on my heart or said I should do it.”
When Washington decided to hang up the cleats, he received a call from that coach. That sparked a few other calls and, eventually, he found himself in a profession he never expected.
A career in building houses may be in Washington’s past, but that original dream is still very much alive in his new line of work. He uses the same terminology, but now, he’s using it to build next-level receivers.
“I tell my guys you have to have a toolbox. A guy is not going to come to try to do a job with just a hammer. That’s one move, one technique. You have to have a hammer, have a screwdriver, have a wrench. You have to have everything if you are going to get the job done,” Washington said.
“That’s what I am trying to empower these guys to do — have that toolbox full of different techniques and things to where they know ‘ok, for this guy I have to use the hammer, this guy I have to use the screwdriver’. Just helping them get to where they need to be because they are very talented. It’s just helping them get to the next level.”
He believes his group of pass-catchers at WVU has the potential to do just that. They have the quickness and foot speed, but Washington said it’s the consistency that is the key. He believes that will lead to the improvements in technique and fundamentals.
As he develops the Mountaineer receivers, he comes back to what got him the job of being their coach in the first place – doing the extra. Putting in the additional work helped him go from Appalachain State to the NFL, and helped him break through as a coach.
“Coach (Brown) calls it ‘edge work’ here. You have to do the extra. My senior year, when I realized I really did have a chance, I started putting in the extra work. Staying after practice, coming before practice, watching film in the mornings, watching film before I went home. I really bought into what my coaches told me and I really realized I had a shot,” Washington said.
By doing more than what was expected, Washington achieved goals that he didn’t even know were in reach at the time. It’s what he learned from his own personal experience that has led to success in helping his players build their own futures.
“What I tell these guys is don’t wait until you realize you have a shot. Push forward now and put yourself in the best position,” he said. “Don’t wait for the opportunity. Take it.”