What does Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nate Washington have in common with Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas and journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick?
The Scott High graduate — along with Bironas, Fitzpatrick, and three other teammates — rank as the most experienced players on the Titans’ active roster.
Washington, the 6-foot-1, 183-pounder, is an unlikely nine-year NFL veteran considering he took a road less traveled to reaching the highest level of professional football.
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“Time flies,” Washington said in a phone interview.
Washington has accomplished much more than most would have expected from a player coming out of a small college not known for producing NFL-caliber talent.
In fact, the undrafted free agent in 2005 is the first Tiffin University player to make an NFL team.
Not only did he defy the odds of making the Steelers roster as an undrafted free agent, he contributed as a key reserve in Pittsburgh during a time the Steelers won two Super Bowls during a four-year stint.
His steady play in Pittsburgh led to him being wooed in 2009 by the Titans, who signed him to a six-year deal worth $27 million, including $9 million guaranteed.
Washington, who will turn 30 later this month, heads into the season with a mindset he adopted when he was a raw, wide-eyed rookie wide receiver.
“Every year comes with having a different perspective,” said Washington, who caught 46 passes for 746 yards, and four TDs in 2012. “I’m a little older now, so I take more time out to take care of my body.”
Staying in tip-top condition has always been a priority for Washington, regarded as one of the league's fastest receivers. He reported to Titans camp this summer with a little more muscle mass than in previous years. He believes a little extra bulk is going to help him in the long run at this stage in his career.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m at the size that I want to be. I’m at the weight that I want, and my speed is great. I believe I have the opportunity to do something special this season.”
Washington’s tenure in the league has been special. He’s in the process of tripling the average amount of time an NFL career lasts — approximately three years.
He’s taken additional steps this offseason to keep in shape. Besides lifting weights to add more size and strength, he’s attempted to stay fresh and injury free.
“I’m trying to have more massages and more treatment,” he said. “By the grace of God, I’ve never experienced a major injury during my career.”
Washington said he “doesn't know what 30 years old or even 21 years old” feels like. He only knows that he’s in shape and ready to play in another NFL season with the Titans in a tough AFC South Division. Tennessee was 6-10 last season and finished third in the division behind Houston (12-4) and Indianapolis (11-5).
“We have a different coach and a different coaching staff with a different philosophy and mentality,” Washington said, referring to Titans third-year coach Mike Munchak and his staff.
Washington’s play with the Steelers began to gain the attention of others in 2006 when he led the AFC with a 17.8 yards-per-catch average with 35 receptions for 624 yards and four TDs. He caught 40 passes for 631 yards, including three touchdowns, during his final year with the Steelers, and that was the most catches Washington recorded in a single season during his time in Pittsburgh.
He’s topped that single-season total each year he’s been with the Titans, including a career-best 74 catches for 1,023 yards and seven TDs in 2011. He’s averaged 39 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns per season during his career.
As far as playing before Titans’ home crowds compared to his days with the Steelers, Washington said the situations are not similar.
“The Titans’ fan base is pretty different because it’s still pretty new,” he said. “It’s a team that’s been around for about 13 or 14 years, so the tradition it’s fairly new, so you can’t really compare the two.”
Yet Washington has experienced the chance to draw cheers from both crowds.
Those moments are all the same. They’re unforgettable.