Ever wondered what a Mizzou team that was comprised of only Missouri kids would look like? Or wonder how good an only-Texan Mizzou squad would do? Well, you’re in luck! This offseason, the Rock M Masthead is assembling the best team of Mizzou players by state that they graduated high school from. We compiled a list of the significant starters on every team from the year 2000 on and voted on the best players at their position group in order to create three “All-State” Mizzou squads: Team Missouri, Team Texas, and Team USA. Over the next nine weeks you’ll read about these Mizzou Greats that hailed from the respective regions and, hopefully, come away impressed with just how good these fictional teams could actually be.
This week the series moves to wide receiver, the position with the highest average star rating of the past twenty years.
I’m not sure we’ll ever see a player with a story that resembles L’Damian Washington’s. His story captured the hearts of Mizzou fans everywhere, and for good reason. He lost both his mother and his father at a young age. He and his siblings took care of one another, so staying close to his family in Louisiana was a priority. He decided to commit to Louisiana Tech to fulfill that goal, but he just couldn’t shake the idea that he was supposed to end up at Missouri. After a long and winding recruiting process, Mizzou offered Washington in late January and he committed just days before National Signing Day in 2009
Can we pause a moment to talk about how remarkable that story - before any of Washington’s success at Missouri - would have been? Washington and his family found a way to make it. Together. It’s an incredible story of perseverance, grit and compassion. That alone was worth celebrating.
But, for Washington, it became so much more.
Washington wasn’t an instant star at Mizzou. He redshirted as a true freshman and caught just five passes the following year. He made a few big plays as a sophomore in 2011, but his real opportunity came as a junior in 2012. Unfortunately, injuries on the offense limited his production and he finished the 2012 season with 25 receptions for less than 500 yards and two touchdowns.
Everything came together in Washington’s final season on campus. Expectations were modest, both for Washington and for the team. This is a former 2-star recruit who built himself into a starter. And Mizzou was coming off its first season in the SEC in which the Tigers finished with a losing record for the first time since 2004. Was this a sign of things to come as Mizzou played against Grown Man Football?
Washington was voted team captain. His game went to another level. He caught seven touchdowns in the first six games of the season. The game that forever made him a legend at Mizzou was the sixth game of the season, on the road at Georgia.
Mizzou came into the game as a surprise 5-0. Georgia came into the game at 4-1, but the one loss came on the road against a top-10 ranked Clemson team.
Mizzou was bound to lose. Until they weren’t.
The first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie behind a James Franklin touchdown run. Mizzou opened up the second quarter with a touchdown pass from Franklin to Washington and the Tigers finished the first half up 28-10.
Whoa, what? Never mind. Reality was about to hit. Georgia came roaring back, outscoring the Tigers 16-0 in the third quarter.
The Tigers were up 28-26 midway through the fourth quarter. The offense was sputtering with James Franklin on the sidelines with an injury. They needed a spark. They needed a team captain to make a play.
And then, Colt-45.
Maty Mauk, filling in for the injured Franklin, lined up in an empty set on second and one with 9:33 to play in the game. One receiver lined up to Mauk’s left, three receivers bunched in the slot a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Washington was split wide to the right.
Sasser, lined up in the bunch, took one step forward and took three steps to his right for a quick bubble screen. Mauk dumped it off to Sasser with the other two receivers in the bunch formation blocking the flowing defenders.
Sasser caught the pass, took a few steps toward his right to buy himself some time, and unloaded a pass 50 yards in the air to the front corner of the end zone into the outstretched arms of a tightly covered Washington.
The Tigers take a 34-26 lead. The defense shuts things down. The win puts Mizzou on the map nationally in a significant way for the first time since the Tigers’ Homecoming win against Oklahoma.
Washington and Sasser will forever be tied to Mizzou for that moment.
Sasser followed that performance up with a huge catch to open up the game against Florida the following week. His lone catch against South Carolina the next week was a 96-yard touchdown.
He finished the season with 50 receptions for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. At the time, he was only the fifth Mizzou wide receiver to post at least 10 touchdown receptions in a season under Gary Pinkel (Sean Coffey, Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Dorial Green-Beckham). His 17.9 yards per reception in 2013 remain the most by a Mizzou pass-catcher in a single season over the last 20 years (min. 40 receptions).
Yeah, he was pretty good at the football thing. And that alone would be a heck of a legacy to leave at Mizzou. But for Washington, the on-field component is only the beginning. He got involved in the community, volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club and at the Food Bank. He shared his story with men, women and children in the community. He returned to Columbia last year as the director of player development with the Tigers after he spent time with seven NFL teams along with opportunities to play in the AAF and a shortened season due to the pandemic on the St. Louis Battlehawks.
Washington was a hell of a football player. He is somehow an even better human being. He’ll forever be remembered for his big play ability on one of the best Mizzou teams of my lifetime. I hope we never forget what kind of a person he was off the field, as well.