Argos hope Washburn can adapt

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Cliff Washburn made a seamless transition from the world of post moves on the court to swim moves on the gridiron.

He's now being asked to grasp a foreign game in a new country, but is hopeful of making the jump just as quickly.

The CFL is awash with Americans coming to Canada to hone and develop their game with the ultimate goal of returning to the big-money and high-profiled NFL.

What makes Washburn's skill-set so enticing is that he's comfortable on either side of the ball.

As raw as he is as a football player, Washburn's personality is so polished, so genuine and so engaging that it's hard not to cheer for him during this period of assimilation.

When he took part in his first practice on Tuesday, the day the Argos announced the signing of the 6-foot-6 Washburn, it represented the first live contact in more than a year.

"You wake up real quickly after that first hit," Washburn said yesterday after he practised at offensive tackle. "I can handle it. It's just a matter of learning the flow of things and learning the offence."

If first impressions mean anything, the Argos have unearthed a diamond in the rough, a principled man who fits in well with the team's community-conscious image.

Washburn, 26, played college basketball at Citadel, where he started at centre and earned a reputation as a 250-pound blue-collar worker who would defend the paint and play with an aggressive edge.

His older brother Ronnie, who anchors the defensive line for the AFL's Utah Blaze, encouraged Washburn to try football. Washburn's college coach, Ellis Johnson, further put the football bug in Washburn's ear and the process was initiated.

"I was just thrown in the fire," Washburn, who now weighs 310 pounds, said. "Basically, I played in a basketball tournament one week, the last of my career, and the next week I was out on the football field in pads hitting."

Washburn began his football foray on defence and was switched to the offensive side by the Chicago Bears, who allocated Washburn to Frankfurt in NFL Europe.

That was more than a year ago. In the interim, Washburn served as a high school basketball coach in his native town of Henrietta, N.C.

There were offers to pursue coaching at the high school level, but the dream of playing pro football remained.

Washburn has never been to Canada, looks forward to experiencing Toronto's multi-cultural flavour and in time suiting up for the Argos.

Washburn has quick feet and hands, absolute requisites for any lineman. What he needs is time to learn the nuances of the CFL and an opportunity to showcase his skills.

"You want to get on the roster and play," Washburn said as he bides his time on the Argos practice roster. "I know I'll be able to make the transition.

"Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll get a chance to play."


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