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Life In Ashburn: Transitioning To The Redskins


In a year full of replacements and acquisitions, here's how many of the new faces for the Redskins have settled into their homes and adapted to living in Loudoun County, Va.

"It's kind of like I'm Jason Bourne," says cornerback Will Blackmon, describing his month-long experience with the Redskins.

"My mindset is I'm here on business to make an impact the year I'm here," he says. "Hopefully whatever happens later, happen in my best interest…I just come here, wait for my alarm to go off…and try to kick ass, dude."

That last statement might have the most to do with Bourne, but the analogy also extends to Blackmon's frequent pit stops in different cities, riding a free agent carousel that can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster in what's become the latter half of his career.

This happens to many NFL veterans who haven't signed long-term contracts while facing the twilight of their playing days. But it's something Blackmon – playing for his fifth team and third in as many years – has come to accept enough to form a new identity, even if it's a fictional one.

But Bourne doesn't have a wife and kids. He doesn't have to move boxes of belongings every time he's re-located or re-assigned. He doesn't have to think about shipping his car. He doesn't have to find an apartment, a school, a doctor and then learn a playbook as all of that slowly gets sorted out.

New players join teams all the time, but, thanks to a new general manager and all varieties of injuries, there's been an especially large influx to the Redskins in 2015. Many of those recent acquisitions, ones that signed or were traded for in the offseason, have only just begun to settle into their different environment. Adapting is not necessarily a quick or easy task, specifically if, like Blackmon, you join a team in the midst of the season.

So what happens after the congratulatory phone call and the papers are signed? How have the newest Redskins begun their new lives in Northern Virginia?

'Momma's Boy'
The realities of life typically come before the realities of football, unless of course you have a girlfriend, wife, or in the case of Terrance Knighton, an extremely helpful mother, willing to handle the responsibilities that can be the most taxing and time consuming.

Check out images of veteran safety Dashon Goldson during his first few months with the Washington Redskins.

In the immediate aftermath of getting traded to the Redskins, safety Dashon Goldson, who lives in Los Angeles when he isn't playing, initially stayed in the team's designated hotel throughout the spring's minicamps. When the team traveled to Richmond, Va., for training camp, his fiancée took over and found a place in Ashburn, Va., within a few weeks.

With the help of an assistant, they moved his things from Tampa, Fla., where he was swapped by the Buccaneers, and situated a U-Haul.

"She loves looking at homes," Goldson said. "She's 'Home & Garden TV.' She thinks she's a realtor. So it's her thing, she got on it right when she heard the news."

Safety Jeron Johnson also had the luxury of extra time when he signed with the team in March. He flew back to Los Angeles, his hometown, and in April headed to Seattle, where he still rents a place with his girlfriend, to pack and ship his essentials, including his car and some furniture, to Ashburn.

"I can't even lie, my girl found a place," Johnson said. "She did pretty much everything. I just signed documents and mailed checks."

She still lives in Seattle, and Johnson admitted the long-distance relationship has been tough, "but we get through it."

This is a prevalent theme in the locker room.

Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, who signed back in February, attested to his girlfriend, pregnant at the time, to finding him a house and furnishing it within two days, moving up some of his essentials from Miami. He only stayed in the hotel room for one night.

"That was through all her," he said. "I was acting lazy. I thought the bed was cool to me, but for a woman that is pregnant, that ain't going to happen."

Upon hearing of a tryout, and eventually signing, kicker Dustin Hopkins's wife, and her parents, drove their things up to Ashburn from New Orleans.

"She's been a huge help," Hopkins said. "Just not having to deal with that, if I was single…"

And then there is Knighton, who when asked about his responsibilities in moving his belongings out of his Denver apartment, deferred all credit to his mother.

"I'm a momma's boy," he said, all 6-foot-3, 354 pounds of him, with no humor in his tone. "I don't have to do anything. My mom helped me find my place. My mom helped me find my furniture. Packed [it] up and shipped."

This isn't just because he couldn't accomplish those things by himself. His mother is happy to do it, knowing her son has his career to focus on.

"It's stressful," Knighton said of signing a one-year contract. "That's why mom deals with it. She just wants me to play football."

'He Got Me Everything'
For those without that generous hand – for the players still single or the dads with wives that have other pressing priorities, namely working and raising kids – the Redskins, like every NFL team, offer services, otherwise known as the director of player development.

Malcolm Blacken has held that responsibility with the team for three years, his third stint with Washington, and has lived in the Ashburn area off and on since 1990. That's an important detail because in many ways, of all the duties Blacken holds (and there are a lot), one of the most crucial for new players is that he plays the role of a concierge, just with way more personal care, attention and experience than somebody stuck in a hotel lobby.

"I'm familiar with business, schools, restaurants, movie theaters, principals, coaches -- you name it," Blacken said. "I know a lot of business owners. I set up internships, I set up jobs, shadowing, you name it I do it all.

The Washington Redskins on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, announced the signing of cornerback Will Blackmon. Take a look at his NFL career in photos.

"We wear a lot of hats," he added. "When we get a new player, or if there is a draft, my goal is to acclimate that young man to the NFL with all off-the-field issues. I help them minimize risk so we can keep them playing at a high level for a long period of time."

The risk he's talking about extends to lots of in-season programs, which include rookie success orientations and veteran boot camps, but for a player's first couple of weeks joining the team, Blacken is ready to assist in any capacity.

"[Malcolm] got my rental car, he got me a home, he got me everything," said Blackmon, who has had to juggle the logistics of transitioning his family from Seattle to Ashburn.

With a 4-year-old son and an 9-month-old daughter, it's not ideal, especially when you consider he had just moved his family into their Seattle residence the day before the Seahawks cut him. In this business, Blackmon knows "you never know."

"My son gets it because he lived in New York, he lived in California. He lived in Florida and Seattle," said Blackmon, who still owns a property in Green Bay (his first team) that he rents to other people. "So he totally gets it. That's what's cool about it. That's what's beneficial to him because he can actually adjust and make friends easy, if anything positive comes out of that."

As a result, it's not unusual for Blacken to develop strong relationships with many players' families.

"I get to know them all," Blacken said. "I help the wives get acclimated to the area. I give them all the resources that they need to be comfortable, because I don't want my players worrying about where they're going to live."

Blacken has a rolodex of realtors he provides, which only some choose to take. Tight end Anthony McCoy, a five-year veteran that joined the Redskins right before the season, has enough experience to know what works for him.

He looks for a home as soon as he gets into the area. He's learned to live cheap. He leases, never buys. But he admits if you do this enough, the playbook is the least of your worries.

"It's dealing with realtors and all these other people that you don't really know is the hard part," he said. "You've got to do your research and stuff."

The same goes for linebacker Mason Foster, another five year veteran, who only brought his essentials with him from Chicago.

"The way that the organization handles you, putting me up in an Extended Stay, let me stay there and let me get on my [feet], at least get some of my stuff sent in to town and get all my stuff together," Foster said, "it helped me out a lot."

Finding Comfort
Most of the new players that joined the organization travelled from the opposite coast. They've enjoyed a particular lifestyle inherent to their home climate and location, things often lost moving to a new city, let alone a new side of the country.

Because of proximity and ease, most players don't attempt to live too far from Redskins Park, which means the realities of living in Ashburn take time to sink in, especially for players used to a metropolitan energy.

"It's different. It's quiet, man. It's the country. I'm a city guy. L.A.," Johnson said. "The closest thing to this was Boise, Idaho, where I went to college. Even Boise was the city life. It keeps you out of trouble. It just keeps you in the house for the most part."

"Ashburn's kind of like Green Bay," Blackmon said. "Flat. A lot of driving."

Check out images of veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois during his first few months as a Washington Redskin.

"It's real green," said McCoy, who lives in Lansdowne, Va. "And I don't like the toll system out here. I hate that crap. I still ain't got me an EZ-Pass."

"I like it a lot," Foster said. "[It] keeps you focused."

"I just like it to be quiet," Knighton said. "I don't like to be where a lot of things are going on."

The interior of the home can be just as important in finding a familiar rhythm. Johnson let his girlfriend help with decorating and furnishing. Jean Francois, after asking several teammates, found a home in a "nice community, something that's way different than the city of Miami," and one that had stairs to appease his girlfriend.

Blackmon didn't get settled until after the team's third game against the Giants, when he could finally go grocery shopping and start cooking food once he learned the playbook.

"Now that I'm better and everything," he said, "I can actually go home, pay some bills, take a nap if I want to."

These might seem like little worries, but they build up. Every player will admit that having stability and comfort at their new apartment or townhouse -- as soon as possible -- is an advantage for their stability and comfort on the field. With no distractions, they can direct their focus where it's needed the most. It might not be home, but it just needs to be enough.

"When you come here, trust me, this playbook, you have got to buckle down and study," Blacken said. "You've got a thousand things moving on the outside of this place and [if] you can't concentrate, or you're going home to stressful situation at home, that's going to hurt you. That hurts the Washington Redskins. We try and I try to help you eliminate those issues by talking about them, problem solving and just taking some of that stuff off your plate."

It's a lot. But as any player in the Redskins locker room will attest, they learn a lot, too – about moving, adapting, struggling and living without any guarantees.

"Jason Bourne, man," Blackmon reiterates.

In some ways, that character doesn't do it justice.  




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