Making himself at home

**

(This week's installment of wide receiver Kelley Washington's diary of a NFL rookie finds him playing a 90-minute drive from his hometown of Stephens City, Va. With 35 friends and family members watching him play in the Bengals' AFC North showdown, Washington is coming off two straight big games and reflects on how he got here as he emerges as a contributor in a playoff run. It turns out watching future Bengal teammate Peter Warrick down the road in Charlottesville, Va., was a major influence in his decision to play college football.

Last week in Pittsburgh, he had just one catch, but it was a 51-yard touchdown on a free-lance play down the sideline as quarterback Jon Kitna rolled away from the rush. Two weeks ago in San Diego, he had a career-high five catches and 61 yards, and a touchdown.)**

A year ago at this time, I was going through my neck injury and not being able to play at Tennessee. I know people were looking at me differently. They didn't think I'd be able to play this year, but I worked hard to get back and had a great workout in the spring before the draft.

My whole mentality changed after that. Not as a player. But I think if I had been drafted in the first round, I wouldn't have worked as hard as I've worked this year. I saw something that Willis McGahee said. He's the running back from Miami who hurt his knee in his last game last year and I was kind of in the same position.

He was probably going in the top five and I was top 15, top 20. He said if he had gone that high, he would have thought everything was going to be handed to him and be so easy. And me dropping to

the third round, I laugh. I know I'm first round and first-round talent. God works in mysterious ways. It's way for me to work even harder to go out and prove to people I'm definitely a first-round talent.

After getting all that attention in college and the talk about going to the NFL, and then to realize it can be taken away just like that, I'm just thankful I can get up every day, drive to a beautiful stadium and play football making a lot of money. Before the injury, I thought my body and my mind were indestructible and I'm not saying I didn't work hard before, but it's different now.

We were watching the old Baltimore tape this week and I had to sit back and laugh. I was just so young as far as knowing what to do in different type of coverages. Now I'm more comfortable doing it on the run, and on the fly, and just being fast, and playing fast. I would play with a little hesitation because I wasn't sure of the assignment. Now I know what I'm doing. I told our receivers coach, Alex Wood, "I was just a pup."

Against Pittsburgh, I turned it up the sideline, and it was a smart play by me and by Kitna. Earlier in the season, I just probably would have stayed on the sideline and blocked the guy. But as I got to the sideline, I realized what was going on and I just turned it up and got behind the corner.

The Baltimore game is special for me because I've got so many people coming to the stadium. My brother, John Washington, is going to see me play for the first time in the pros, and my two-year-old niece is going to be there. My mother raised me in a single-parent home and I know this is a proud day for her. She's been a nurse at Winchester Medical Center for about 20 years, and now she does a lot of teaching there and working with computers.

I never went to a pro game growing up, and I didn't go to my first college game until I was playing minor-league baseball and I saw Peter Warrick play wide receiver when he was a senior at Florida State and they played at Virginia.

This is about the time he had the problem at Dillard's (when Warrick didn't pay enough money for his purchases) and everytime he did something, the crowd held up bags from Dillard's. That's one of the things that made me want to play college football. To have people watching and just waiting to see your next move, that was exciting to me.

I spent our day offs this week traveling to and from Los Angeles Monday and Tuesday to be on Fox on the "Best Damn Sports Show." Those guys love me. That's the second time I've been on to do my touchdown dance, "The Squirrel," and this time Anthony Munoz, the former Bengal, was co-hosting and I taught him a few moves. He's pretty happy with how we're doing and talked to me about some of the games.

That was fun. It was a good vacation. It was good to get away from people and just be by myself. I left on Monday night and had dinner by myself in Beverly Hills. You always hear about the places out there and I just walked around and I did some shopping.

The restaurants looked great, but I couldn't pronounce half of them and I found a Johnny Rocker's. It's just a hamburger and cheeseburger place and I had to laugh because I'm out there in Beverly Hills around all these great places and I end up at Johnny Rocker's. I think that just shows I'm still the same old Kelley.

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