Six years later, ex-Mizzou WRs Lucas, Washington loving life with BattleHawks

Former Mizzou standouts Marcus Lucas (85) and L'Damian Washington (2) are members of the St. Louis BattleHawks' inaugural roster.
Kevin Jairaj/John David Mercer/USA Today Sports

ST. LOUIS — There was a time when former Missouri Tigers standouts Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington wanted nothing more than to become NFL stars. Priorities change over time, though, and more than six years after their collegiate careers came to an end, they’re now perfectly happy to play for the love of the game as members of the new XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks.

Seeing as the 27-year-old Lucas made it to the final cutdown with the Dallas Cowboys last August, it’d be easy to assume that he’s hoping to play his way back into an NFL opportunity. And while he’s open to that possibility, Lucas is just enjoying playing football. Period.

“For me, this is just to be able to play again,” Lucas said. “… Whatever comes from it, it would be a blessing, but I’m just focused on having fun here in this league and winning some games.”

His former college teammate is even more clear about his expectations these days. “My goal isn’t to get back to the NFL,” Washington said. “It’s just to continue playing ball at a high level and have fun with it.”

While they may not have been quite as transformative as Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, Lucas and Washington were two of the most prolific receivers ever to play at Mizzou. Washington accumulated 1,735 career receiving yards with 15 receiving touchdowns from 2010-13, and Lucas wasn’t far behind, collecting 1,638 yards and 11 TDs over the same four seasons. While both were impactful throughout their four years in Columbia, they shined brightest for a 2013 Tigers team that went 12-2, played Auburn in the SEC championship game, beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 5 in the AP poll.

While Lucas and Washington received some valuable national exposure during Missouri’s banner season and both received invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine, neither was drafted. Both were invited to NFL training camps as rookies — Washington with the Cowboys, Lucas with the Carolina Panthers — but both were unsuccessful in their respective quests to make 53-man rosters.

At that point, their paths diverged as they sought to remain relevant in the football universe.

This will be Washington’s fourth professional league. He labored on seven different NFL practice squads or offseason rosters, spent nearly two years in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers and signed with the Birmingham Iron of the short-lived Alliance of American Football before it folded last April. Lucas’ pro experience was limited to NFL preseason rosters and practice squads — nine of them, to be exact, including two stints each with the Panthers and Seattle Seahawks.

All that bouncing around has led Lucas and Washington to the second incarnation of the XFL, where they’re living together while playing for a BattleHawks team that is located in the same state where they played college ball.

After years of constant change and playing alongside teammates he’d never met before, the BattleHawks present a welcome change for Washington. “I don’t think I even played with anybody from Mizzou on any professional team I was on, so now that’s my roommate here, that’s my guy,” the 28-year-old wideout said.

Said Lucas: “It’s been kind of déjà vu. Not used to seeing one of your teammates every day and then being able to come to a situation like this to where he is here, someone that’s known you for like the last 10 years — it’s kind of unique to have that situation.”

In an interesting twist, both players made their collegiate debuts against Illinois on Sept. 4, 2010, at the Edward Jones Dome (now known as The Dome at America’s Center, where the BattleHawks will play this season), so their new home stadium holds some sentimental value. “It kind of comes full circle, because my very first game was at The Dome, so for it to come this way in my professional career to be playing there again is very unique,” Lucas said.

The former Tigers receivers no longer share a meeting room, however. Washington remains a wideout but Lucas is now a tight end — a position change he made with the Panthers in the summer of 2015. Lucas has enjoyed the move, saying the adjustment has been tough at some points and more natural at others.

“It’s been pretty interesting,” he said. “It’s been a challenge to learn a new position at the professional level. My senior year at Mizzou, I played slot at the Y position. We were in ‘10’ personnel, which is four receivers on the field. I just kind of got acclimated to being on the inside, so that’s made for an easier transition.”

While Washington admits that it’s “weird to see” his former fellow wideout playing a different position, he’s excited for him. Lucas is “super talented and he’s going to show a lot of people why he deserves to be in an NFL camp next (season),” he said.

Head coach/general manager Jonathan Hayes, for one, is impressed with the skill set Lucas brings to the position. “He’s a big body with good hands, a good catch radius, and he’s improved his blocking,” Hayes said.

Washington is only 10 months older than Lucas and wound up in the same senior class as him at Missouri, but he’s long seen himself as somewhat of a mentor to his teammate, having taken him under his wing when Lucas first arrived in Columbia. Now Washington — affectionately known to his teammates as “Pops” — has the chance to serve in that same type of role for the BattleHawks’ entire receiver group. He relishes in that responsibility. “I think for the younger guys that do want to get back (to the NFL), I think that is my role — to help these guys get to where they want to go,” he said.

On top of a deep love for the game, Lucas and Washington both have a little something extra to play for this time around. Each welcomed his first son within the last several years — Lucas in December 2017, Washington in August 2018 — and each wants his boy to grow up with a memory of his father playing the game.

“I’m doing it for my little boy to see his dad play,” Washington said. “When I was first playing, he wasn’t born yet, so that’s kind of my motivation.”

And after expending so much effort to reach the biggest stage, Lucas and Washington now are taking time to appreciate the simple pleasures in football: enjoying the game and the team atmosphere, making their families proud and continuing to build upon their long-lasting friendship.