Tulane defensive lineman Eldrick Washington could be bitter about the way his college football career ended —with a torn ACL six games into his first season as a starter after four long years waiting for the opportunity.
He’s not. He is too busy pursuing the other passion in his life to let one bad break ruin his outlook.
The son of bass guitarist Eldrick Washington, Jr., he plans to follow in his father’s footsteps when he knows for sure he cannot play football any longer.
“I love the feeling (of playing in a band), and it makes people happy,” he said. “Just being able to share that with a crowd of people is an amazing thing.”
Washington, who grew up around gospel music at the Evening Star Baptist Church in Harvey, already has performed publicly on numerous occasions. He has played five or six times on the stage at the Gospel Tent during Jazz Fest, usually on the bass and a couple of times on drums.
He has played the Saenger Theater and at French Quarter Fest, accompanying Kermit Ruffins, the singer Bailey Flores and other local artists.
The itch started when he was 3 years old and his dad gave him a drum set designed for little kids. He graduated to a real drum set at Christmas four years later, then switched to bass guitar when he was 10 and stuck with it.
“It was kind of unique because not many people were doing it, and I wanted to separate myself and be different because all my friends wanted to play drums,” he said. “They had a lot of keyboardists that were already good, so I said I’m going to try the bass and just make it my own.”
Washington’s musical interests are all over the board, starting with his dad, who plays jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and gospel. The younger Washington added pop and hip-hop to his repertoire, mentioning Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder among his primary influences along with bassists Stanley Clarke, a co-founding member of the group Return to Forever, one of the first jazz fusion bands, and Victor Wooten, a five-time Grammy Award winner.
“I just really grab from everybody and try to make it my own,” Washington said. “It took practice, but it kind of came natural, just having a good ear and being able to listen for things.”
It has taken hard work, too. The bass guitar is not easy to master, and he admitted he needed a full year to fully understand what he was doing before he could start working on his craft.
Balancing football and academics occupies almost every second of every day for plenty of Tulane athletes, but Washington, a health and wellness major, has carved out time for his bass practice, too.
With the football team practicing in the morning for all five years of his career, the schedule for his two passions did not always mesh well.
“Some days I stayed up late, either like going to rehearsals and being out playing,” he said. “I just had to discipline myself to set an alarm in the morning and be here for practice. It was time-consuming, but I just made the best of it. I didn’t mind putting in the work and putting in the long hours.”
He certainly was not slacking in football. After four years of first-team all-district honors at Helen Cox High, he arrived at Tulane as a three-star recruit (247Sports.com) but never received much playing time under former coach Curtis Johnson’s staff.
His breakthrough came last year as an interior lineman under Willie Fritz, when he registered a career-high 20 tackles and made his first career start against Navy. He excelled as a reserve in a game at Houston with a career-best six stops, including a sack and a second tackle for loss.
This season, he moved to end in the Wave’s revised 3-4 scheme and started the first six games. While his numbers went down (six tackles), he used his 6-foot-2, 285-pound frame to hold his ground, allowing teammates to make plays.
Tulane (5-6) won three of the five games he finished, holding four opponents below 200 yards rushing, something that has happened only once in his absence.
“It was great putting in the hard work to earn a starting spot and just being out there with my teammates,” he said. “It was just the best thing ever.”
Washington knew he was done the second he got hurt, feeling a pop in his knee on FIU’s opening drive Oct. 14 and realizing it was a torn ACL. The devastating injury has not kept him from attending practice almost every day after his surgery, walking around on crutches and encouraging his teammates as much as he can as they try to earn the program’s second bowl bid in the past 15 years.
His message to everyone: life goes on, and you have to deal with setbacks the best way you can.
“Something I think it is indicative of him, the Monday after his injury he was 15 minutes early to class,” Fritz said. “A lot of guys aren’t mentally tough enough to be able to do that, and he is. He’s a team-first guy, and he’s a winner.”
Washington expects to be fully recovered for Tulane’s Pro Day next April, where he intends to make a long-shot bid for the NFL in front of scouts. If that professional dream ends on the wrong note, he has one heck of a fallback plan.
It is all based on the bass.
“I want to travel the world and play in big venues in front of a lot of people,” he said. “Then later on I want to start producing my own music and writing my own music. All types of music.”