The Longest Road to Training Camp

Wednesday August 5th, 2015

Jackson Gaskins would do just about anything to work in the NFL, even if that means living out of his own van. Gaskins, 22, is a training camp intern with Washington, and he admits he fudged the truth a bit when he applied for his position. “I lied on the application when I said that I had a place to live,” Gaskins says. “I was planning on living out of my van.”

Gaskins drove 3,313 miles from San Diego to Richmond, Va. (taking a circuitous route) to work an unpaid training camp internship. He made the four-day trip solo with a broken radio and a mattress shoved in the back of his 2004 Toyota Sienna.

Eight states later, Gaskins still hadn’t found a place to stay in Richmond, but it didn’t matter. He was determined to make it to Washington. He was going to work in the NFL. The details would work themselves out. The day before his arrival he found housing with another training camp intern.

“When I told my best friend that I was driving across the country, he asked, ‘Why? Are they paying you really well?’ I said, ‘Well, not really.’”

Or not at all. Gaskins, a graduate student at Colorado Christian University, is one of 13 20-something training camp interns who have made huge sacrifices to work for Washington simply for school credit over the next three weeks. “Hey, I have to go to wherever there is opportunity,” Gaskins says.

Washington senior vice president for communications Tony Wyllie first met Gaskins at the team’s media reception dinner last week, where Washington’s communications staff introduced the new interns to local media.  “I said, ‘Man, you came all the way from San Diego?’” Wyllie says. “I’ve been around this league for23 years and never seen that type of dedication.”

But a few minutes later Wyllie met Sterling Randle, 24, a BYU student from Provo, Utah, who drove 31 hours to report to the Bon Secours Training Center for his chance to start an NFL career, rivalling Gaskins journey.“There’s nothing in Utah,” Randle says, “We just have the Jazz in Utah and Real Salt Lake.”

In previous years, Wyllie says most interns were local students from Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond. But this year the team received over 500 applicants, “They brought so much to the table that we just brought in the best candidates,” Wyllie says. “We’ve never had interns travel this far, not by car. It shows a can-do attitude.”

Wyllie, who traveled from Texas to San Diego for his first training camp internship with the Chargers in 1992, sees a bit of himself in Gaskins and Randle. “I couldn’t even afford a plane ticket,” Wyllie remembers. “The dean of my school—Texas Southern University-—handed me a plane ticket so I was able to go.”

Gaskins and Randle both chose to move cross-country for training camp because of Wyllie’s expansive communications coaching tree. Gaskins interned for the Chargers all of last season and was asked to work at the Super Bowl, where he heard about Wyllie’s wide network at the initial meeting in Phoenix. “Everyone was leaving, and they had people stay back for a picture, all of Tony’s guys,” Gaskins remembers. “There had to be at least 30 or 40 guys. I just got chills, i don’t know why.”

By his own count, Wyllie has six former interns who are now directors of communications across professional sports. “If you work for Tony, you are going to go places,” Randle says.

In a competitive business, Gaskins and Randle have put in the mileage to stand out from the rest. “I can tell they are passionate,” Wyllie says. “You can’t teach passion. These guys are going to make their passion their paycheck.”

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