James Washington a 'workhorse' for Steelers and family farm

James Washington spent countless hours helping his father on farms, one of which is family-owned in Lexington, Texas. Courtesy of James Washington

PITTSBURGH -- James Washington has an exercise for developing strong receiving hands that even Antonio Brown doesn't try on social media: changing the tires on a 6E Series John Deere tractor.

Years of handling that clunky jack underneath multi-ton farm machinery always got Washington right for game days.

"It teaches you to hold leverage, put your shoulder into it and shove it," said Washington, the Pittsburgh Steelers' second-round pick. "Flip the tire up and lean it against the tractor, then you kind of want to wiggle it on there."

Before Washington learned to do it all on the field for Oklahoma State, he had to do it all in the fields of north Texas.

As a teenager in Stamford, Texas, with a population of less than 3,000, Washington spent countless hours helping his father on farms, one of which is family-owned in nearby Lexington.

Washington's dad would return from his day job at TxDot highway patrol, change clothes, put his boots on and hop into an old diesel truck with his son.

Farming isn't a convenient storyline for the Steelers' rookie wide receiver, but it is a way of life.

"My dad's a one-man job, so when he's out plowing and stuff, I'm usually in the barn cleaning up, changing tires on the tractors, air conditioning belts on tractors, changing the oil," said Washington, whose family farms count wheat and cotton as its primary resources. "I'm just kind of like the workhorse. If anything needs to be heavy lifted or anything needs worked on then I'm the guy."

From love for the family dog, a blue heeler named Cowboy, to appreciating the wheat-planting process, Washington quickly took to the farming life as a child.

The family figured putting him to work would build character.

"He likes to be outside in the wide open," said Washington's mother, Chrysta. "He fell in love with it. We always said one day, if this is something you're looking at, we'll do some serious farming."

Washington majored in agribusiness with an option in farm and ranch management at Oklahoma State, where he set a school record of 4,472 receiving yards. He credits farming strength for his ability to make contested catches. Despite his 5-foot-11, 213-pound frame, Washington has long legs and high hips, which, according to Cowboys offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, helps him play like he's 6-3.

The Steelers are known for their track record drafting receivers, and their latest project isn't lacking in blue-collar pedigree, even if big-city living might be an adjustment.

Washington's idea of a good time this summer is restoring a 1986 Chevy C10 wide bed and cruising through local parking lots.

"When you drive to Walmart and someone sees you, they say, 'Hey, nice truck' -- it makes you feel good because you put in all the hard work to get that," Washington said.

Pittsburgh has plenty of Walmarts and footballs to go around in the Steelers' offense. Washington figures to be a deep threat alongside Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

He'll approach that job like an afternoon session back home.

"He's more gracious due to the fact that he knows where food sources come from and he understands hard work," Chrysta said.