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Stanford kicker embracing failure, success

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Stanford kicker embracing failure, success

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Jordan Williamson wears a Fiesta Bowl cap most places he goes now to remind himself and show the world just how far he has come since the worst moment of his life.

Not that anybody needs a reminder anymore.

The Stanford kicker, who kept a low profile for months after he missed a field goal at the end of regulation and overtime in that 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in January, will no longer be remember on this quant Silicon Valley campus for just his biggest failure. Williamson's winning 37-yard field goal in overtime at top-ranked Oregon last Saturday night highlighted his road to redemption, and he's using both experiences to help others overcome similar setbacks.

``The Fiesta Bowl is something that I'll never forget,'' Williamson said. ``It's not something that I'm trying to hide. Obviously, it happened, and people know it happened. It's just something I use to motivate me to get better.''

Williamson said he received encouragement from people ``pretty high up'' - even from those outside of football - since that disaster in the desert.

The encouragement prompted him to contact kickers also going through trying times. Earlier this season, for instance, he reached out to Pittsburgh's Kevin Harper, who missed a potential game-ending, 33-yard field goal in the second overtime against Notre Dame before the Panthers lost 27-23 in triple overtime. Harper made the four other field goals he attempted.

``I told him, `Hey, look. You had a great game. Don't worry. It's not on you,''' Williamson said. ``He was handling it very well. He knew that he was fine and he had a great game. So it wasn't bad. But I am starting to try to reach out more.''

Williamson declined to name others he has contacted or those who have gotten in touch with him. Just the fact that he can openly discuss the Fiesta Bowl gives a glimpse of how much has changed.

Early in that game against Oklahoma State, Williamson missed from 41 yards and made from 30 yards. Stanford coach David Shaw chose to run out the clock on Andrew Luck's finale drive and set the stage for Williamson's 35-yard attempt with the game tied on the final play of regulation. He missed. And missed again - also left - from 43 yards in overtime.

After the game, Williamson wept in the corner of the locker room. Teammates shielded him from reporters, patted him on the head, tried to console him and offer words of encouragement.

``I'd say before the Fiesta Bowl I really had no idea what it was like to miss a do-or-die kick,'' Williamson said. ``I didn't really understand the aftermath of it all until the situation happened.''

He received nasty Facebook messages for months, and strangers would even walk up to him and tease, ``Laces Out!'' The reference is from the movie ``Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'' and a fictional missed field goal by a Miami Dolphins kicker in the Super Bowl.

Williamson, a psychology major, returned home to Austin, Texas, trying to get his mind off the misses during the winter break. His mother, Laura Burton, even sent a letter to the parents of Stanford players to ``express my utter sorrow for how things played out'' and thanking them for ``never in my life have I seen the kindness, maturity, and love that has been displayed by this Stanford family'' for helping her son.

``For him to go through some growing pains early, I think, was good for him,'' punter and holder Daniel Zychlinski said. ``Now he has a foundation to build upon. Going through that hardened him mentally to withstand any failure in the future. He knows what it feels like and he knows how it is to go through it.''

While Williamson said he wasn't nervous before his final kick at Oregon, those on Stanford's sideline were for him.

Williamson had missed a 43-yarder earlier in the game, saying he picked up his head too soon, which he often cites as reasons for most misses. Shaw stuck with Williamson anyway, as he always has, even though the redshirt sophomore kicker is now 13 for 22 on field goals this season.

Knowing what Williamson had gone through and what another mistake could do for his psyche, Shaw sent the kicker out in amped-up Autzen Stadium and said a prayer.

``The prayer wasn't for the team,'' Shaw said. ``The prayer was just for him, that he would be able to relax and do the job to the best of his ability.''

Williamson kicked the ball through the uprights. He sprinted around the field in a mad dash, embraced Shaw at midfield and ran to find his father in the stands for an unforgettable embrace.

``I don't think we could even measure how important that was,'' Shaw said.

Players shouted in unison, and the locker room walls rattled. The echo filtered to those waiting outside and all around the stadium's tunnel: ``JOR-DAN! JOR-DAN! JOR-DAN!''

``It was pretty great, I'm not going to lie,'' Williamson said. ``I started to tear up a little bit.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Redskins have safety needs but little cash, putting Clinton-Dix in precarious situation

Redskins have safety needs but little cash, putting Clinton-Dix in precarious situation

When the Redskins traded for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in October, the safety position looked to be a great strength for Washington. 

The team already had D.J. Swearinger, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level, and adding Clinton-Dix was supposed to make the Redskins defense one of the elite units in the NFL

That plan didn’t work. 

Clinton-Dix never performed at a high level in Washington, and frankly probably underperformed on the relative cheap fourth-round pick price the Redskins paid to acquire him. 

In nine games with Washington, Clinton-Dix registered 66 tackles and recovered one fumble. And while it wasn't entirely on him, Clinton-Dix's arrival coincided with the Redskins defensive demise. 

Now, it's free agency time for Clinton-Dix.

Pro Football Focus rated Clinton-Dix as the 32nd best safety in the NFL, and he will be one of the bigger names on the open market. What will the money look like?

It's hard to answer because 2018 wasn't an impressive season. Clinton-Dix struggled enough in tackling that Green Bay decided to trade him, and those struggles continued in Washington. 

The Redskins have a lot of needs this offseason, and safety is one of them. 

Swearinger is gone, and the depth chart features Montae Nicholson, Troy Apke and Deshazor Everett. Nicholson finished his season suspended after being arrested for assault and Apke finished his season on IR. Everett has made plays when he gets chances on the field, but for whatever reason, he rarely gets chances.

Washington doesn't have a lot to spend in free agency, as the Alex Smith contract will eat up a lot of their cap space. 

There definitely isn't room for a high-value contract for Clinton-Dix. 

There might not be room for a low dollar contract for Clinton-Dix based on his 2018 level of play, but the position is a need. 

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Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Owner Ted Leonsis says the Wizards' best course is not to tank this season. Is he right?

Shortly before his team took on the New York Knicks in a global showcase game in London, England on Thursday, Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis addressed reporters and dropped a line that created a swift and strong reaction on social media.

When discussing the state of his team, Leonsis said in no uncertain terms that the goal this season is to make the playoffs. He has no interest in looking towards the draft lottery, despite the desires of some fans who have visions of Zion Williamson throwing down lobs from John Wall.

"We will never, ever tank," Leonsis told reporters.

That quote seems like one that will be revisited periodically in the next several years. But, like all quotes, it requires some context. 

What Leonsis went on to explain is that his franchise is not in a position to lose on purpose. They have too much talent, even with injuries to Wall, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris, to pack it in and look towards next year. They also have too much money committed with what currently ranks as the seventh-highest payroll in basketball. They already went through a rebuild, he said, and it's not time yet to go through another one.

As Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington in September, there are "no excuses" for falling short this season.

In many ways, what he said in London was not surprising at all. The Wizards have been in win-now mode for several years. Anyone paying attention to their personnel moves should understand that.

Take the trade for Trevor Ariza in December, for instance. Though some speculated that was about trading for a guy who could be dealt elsewhere months later, that was never the Wizards' intention, according to people familiar with their plans. Getting Ariza was about improving the defense and retooling their locker room culture. It was about making the playoffs this spring.

Leonsis' comments should make the Wizards' plans for the Feb. 7 trade deadline a bit easier to ascertain. The goal to make the playoffs doesn't necessarily mean they will be buyers, but it strongly suggests they won't be sellers. They are only two games out of a playoff spot in the still-pedestrian Eastern Conference with 37 games left to play. After winning six of nine, the playoffs are a realistic goal.

That still won't assuage the Wizards fans out there pining for them to make the long-term play, of course. And there is an argument to be made that their future would be better off if they take a step back this season to take two steps forward the next. If they tanked and got a top draft pick, it could help them immensely down the road if that player becomes another franchise cornerstone.

But, as Leonsis argues, gunning for top draft picks can be unpredictable. People often cite the Sixers as a tanking success story, and their future does appear to be bright. 

But the Sixers are an exception to the rule, as tanking is by no means a fool-proof strategy, even in long-term rebuilds. Teams go years and years without luck in the draft. Just look at the Sacramento Kings.

Or, you could look at the Wizards, one of the least successful franchises in the NBA historically. Only five NBA teams have a worse winning percentage all-time than the Wizards, who have been around for 58 years. They haven't won 50 games or reached the conference finals since the 1970s.

If the Wizards were to make the playoffs this season, that would be five times in six years, arguably their best stretch of postseason success since the 70s. Consider the fact they made the playoffs just once from 1988 to 2004.

Sure, the Wizards should set their sights higher than losing in the first or second round, but there is something to be said about stability for a team that hasn't really had it since the Carter administration. And there is also something to be said about trying to build on what they have, rather than tearing it down and starting over.

It's not easy to go from middle of the road to great, but other teams have done it. In fact, most of the top teams in today's NBA didn't get there by tanking. 

The Rockets made trades for James Harden and Chris Paul and drafted Clint Capela 25th overall. The Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick.

The Bucks got Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in trades and Malcolm Brogdon with a second round selection. The Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round and got Gary Harris with a trade for the 19th pick.

The Warriors, though they had some lean years before their meteoric rise, basically built their team without any really high draft picks. They took Stephen Curry seventh, but also got Klay Thompson 11th and Draymond Green in the second round.

What Leonsis hopes to happen is a parallel to his Washington Capitals of the NHL. When it appeared they had hit a wall, some minor changes helped them break through to win a Stanley Cup in 2018.

The NBA is different, and the Wizards aren't a few small tweaks from toppling the Warriors, but perhaps Leonsis' patience will pay off. Maybe the Wizards will get a healthy version of Wall back, and the ascension of Beal and Porter will lead to them winning 50 games or going to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.

There are fans out there who want dramatic changes. They want more than a first round playoff exit. Leonsis, of course, does as well, but he believes staying the course is the best path forward to getting there. Only time will tell if he's right.

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