When Vontae Diggs is carrying five of his teammates’ shoulder pads after practice, he’s doing it with a smile on his face.
That’s because no matter how grueling some good-natured rookie duties can get, he’s grateful to have his shot to make an NFL roster.
The undrafted linebacker from UConn didn’t believe he would make it to college, let alone professional football. Now, Diggs is getting to run the same drills as three-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan in training camp.
“First day of pads, Ryan came up to me and was like, ‘hey bro can you take this for me please?’ I was like, ‘do I have to?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, you don’t really have a choice,’” Diggs said with a smile. “I just kind of took it in from there...So I’m not going to complain too much. I’m just happy to be out here with the guys."
‘A Sense Of Direction’
Diggs blossomed into a highly-touted college recruit on the field, but was needing an attitude makeover. Hanging around the wrong crowds and doing anything he desired no matter the consequences, the Downers Grove, Ill., native had “no sense of direction”. After trying out for football, he learned discipline and how to express his emotions in a healthy way.
When Diggs was promoted to his high school varsity team during his sophomore season, he got a “hot head” thinking he was the best player on the team. His coach, John Wander, even suspended him for one game because of his approach. Knowing the potential that Diggs had, Wander assisted him with his anger management in addition to his counselors and preached to him that he needed a strong work ethic if he wanted to play in college.
Not thinking he would have the opportunity to even play at the next level, the 6-foot-2 linebacker took the words of wisdom with a grain of salt. The result: his first scholarship offer to Toledo before his junior year even began. As letters came piling in, Diggs humbly took his coach’s words to heart and changed his demeanor heading into UConn.
The high school journey, he said, was the path that ultimately changed his mindset of thinking his life could be turned in a positive direction.
“From there, it kind of just blew up and I started becoming more and more serious about school and football and how I can help others that were in my situation who weren’t doing too well as a whole in life,” Diggs said. “Football and sports were where I thrived at, but outside of sports I wasn’t really a good person at the time. So it helped me, just football, wrestling, track, everything that I did at the time and the people that I had around me from my counselors, to my teachers, to my friends and their parents, pretty much my whole community in Downers Grove. They all blessed me.”
The Washington Redskins conducted their tenth day of training camp practice Monday, August 6, 2018 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
Keeping The Work Ethic
The effort shown during the course of his high school playing days transferred over the moment Diggs stepped foot on Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn. When he met his teammates, his college coaches could tell that the work ethic was there and that he even had qualities of a leader.
However, Diggs still had a long ways to go, claiming that he didn’t know how to approach people or would not say the right things to his teammates at times. His coaches wanted him to change his character, but not how he approached every snap.
Even though Diggs finished his college career with 183 tackles, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles, he went undrafted in April. When the Redskins signed the graduate with a degree in human development and family studies, it was not his skills that stood out.
His passion for hard work is what got Washington’s attention.
“When we ended up signing him as a tryout guy, the first thing that really caught my eye was how much effort he was putting in,” outside linebackers coach Chad Grimm said. “He’s an intelligent guy, he was able to pick up two positions and learn from there, which that’s half the battle in this business. He was great. He flashed mentally first and then just his work ethic, keeping his head down, not worrying about what’s going on. The situation wasn’t too big for him, you know, and he fit in well, he grinds, he works hard and he’s done a good job.”
‘A Blessing To Be Here’
Most of the players on the Redskins training camp roster are focused on making the final cut. While that's in the back of Diggs’ mind, he’s just enjoying the time he has to put on a uniform.
According to Grimm, the 22-year-old has been a positive influence on the outside linebackers because he's brought back the sense of appreciation of being in the league. No matter if his rookie tasks are carrying five pads to the locker room or buying snacks when his group is watching film, Diggs is doing it with a joyful attitude.
From what his teammates see, Diggs is an example of how any first-year player should conduct themselves on and off the field.
“He do all the things right, man, what a rookie should do,” teammate Pernell McPhee said. “He don’t complain, he be on time on everything, he’ll bring us snacks in the room. He just do all the great things that rookie do, should do and he’s been having great practices these last two weeks. I’m going to be excited to see him play Thursday.”
Regardless of whether or not Diggs is placed on the 53-man roster, he is going to cherish the final moments of training camp and preseason because he didn’t think he was going to have a chance to pursue his dream of professional football earlier in his life.
“Every day I step out on the field and get to put the Redskins jersey on, it’s a blessing,” Diggs said with a smile. “There was a point in time where I didn’t think I was going to see 18...I didn’t think I was going to go to college. I’m 100 percent sure that I didn’t think I would legitimately play in the NFL.
“So to have this opportunity to put the jersey on, be out here with future Hall of Famers with Ryan Kerrigan, Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Mason Foster and the list goes on. I think it’s awesome. This is just a blessing for me to be here when I look back on the journey and I’m hoping I can change someone else’s life when they see what I’ve all been through and that I made it this far and hopefully the sky’s still the limit for me.”