RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Former Richmond star running back Tim Hightower remembers being a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals during their 2008 run to the Super Bowl and how the veterans on the team could put into perspective that hard journey that dated back years.
“To hear the veterans in that locker room talk about playing in Sun Devil Stadium, talk about the dark days, one win seasons, four win seasons, coaching changes- I couldn’t really appreciate it as a rookie,” recalled Hightower. “To hear those guys’ perspective and to see how much it meant to people who had been part of an organization for so long and have fought so long and it just hasn’t gone your way, it is good.”
And that’s the role that players like Ryan Kerrigan and Morgan Moses, who have been through a lot of the ups and downs during their careers with the organization, will serve as to those younger guys in the locker room.
Hightower, now Washington’s Director of Alumni Relations, suited up in the burgundy and gold in 2011. He remembers those playoff locker rooms from his days in Arizona and couldn’t be happier that his current squad is back in the postseason, the first time Washington will take that stage since January of 2016.
“It’s been a long time (since the last postseason win in 2005),” the former running back said. “We’ve had a lot of coaching changes, there’s been a lot of changes in the front office, the coaches, the players, so it’s exciting. It doesn’t matter how you get in, you’re in and now you have the opportunity to do something special.”
Washington won the NFC East with a 7-9 record, clinching the division after topping Philadelphia in the final game of the regular season. Hightower notes that there are a handful of victories this year that the squad may have fallen short in during previous seasons and the culture change is taking hold.
That culture starts with Ron Rivera and Alex Smith, who has gone through their own personal hurdles within the last 14 months.
“It’s one thing for a coach to talk about it, but the guy’s literally fighting for his life,” Hightower said of Rivera’s cancer fight. “You have a quarterback in Alex Smith who fought for his life to get back on the field. To have those two guys really set the tone of that locker room, and then all of a sudden you’ve got to fight for your chance to be in the playoffs up until the last game of the season... It just speaks volumes to hopefully the culture that’s continuing to be built.”
His view will be a little bit different than the last time he tasted the playoffs, but Hightower is still familiar with that postseason mindset- one that many of the Washington players are experiencing for the first time.
“You get a fresh life because you know it’s one and you’re done. You can’t make it up,” he noted. “There has to be a mindset shift, but that’s where you’ve really got to rely on those veterans, the Alex Smiths, Coach Rivera has been there, to say ‘hey guys, this is different.’”
Washington will host Tampa Bay on Saturday at 8:15. Hightower says the defense’s ability to get pressure on Tom Brady will certainly play a role, but his keys to an upset are pretty basic.
“Whoever has the least amount of turnovers, whoever wins the rushing game I think has a really good chance to win this game.”
Hightower played his final season at Richmond in 2007 and was selected by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He spent three years in Arizona before being traded to Washington in 2011, but his only campaign in the nation’s capital was cut short due to a torn ACL in the fifth game of the year. The running back’s NFL playing career was capped off with two seasons in New Orleans in 2015 and 2016.
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