The Washington Redskins welcomed back a familiar face today, as former receiver Donté Stallworth was back on the practice field trying out for a spot on the team's 90-man roster.
"It was obviously really good being back out here. Not only being back out here playing football again, running around, but it's a great organization, great fan base and this is the area to be in," he said with a grin. "I'm thankful for the opportunity, just trying to make the most of it.
"It's been a long road for me for the past year and a half. [I'm] just glad to be back out here."
Zipping around the field in a No. 14 jersey, Stallworth looked like the same receiver that caught 22 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Redskins in 2011.
Never mind everything that happened in between.
Stallworth had an opportunity to return to the Redskins last offseason or return to the New England Patriots, where he had played in 2007.
Sensing an opportunity to play for a contender in New England, Stallworth chose the Patriots, a move that Redskins' head coach Mike Shanahan tried to talk him out of.
"I didn't want to lose Donté [Stallworth] a year ago. Before he had signed, he was contemplating what to do and he had decided to go to New England," Shanahan told the media. "I really thought that he made a mistake.
"I thought he would have been better being with us just because I liked what he did, what he brought to the table."
During his decade in the NFL, Stallworth has 4,837 yards and 35 touchdowns for six different teams. Beyond his impact on offense, Stallworth has been a regular on special teams wherever he goes, providing a boost on the return and coverage units.
Returning to the Patriots last season, Stallworth appeared in only one game, making one highlight-reel, 63-yard touchdown reception before injuring his ankle.
After watching his Patriots lose to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game, Stallworth looked forward to a quiet offseason of rehabbing and preparing his body for the 2013 season.
That plan was disrupted by a hot air balloon accident left him and his then girlfriend electrocuted and burned. The accident nearly cost him his life, to say nothing of his playing career.
"Ten years of playing professional football and I've never even been helped off the field. If I had any injuries, I was able to get up and walk away on my own," he said. "Ten years and I go in a hot air balloon—something that seems very peaceful—and in two hours I'm getting airlifted to a hospital with my life on the line.
"Thank God that we both survived and we really were very lucky and blessed to come away with…I mean, with our lives still intact."
After all that he has been through in his career, Stallworth admitted he wasn't sure if he would get another opportunity to suit up in the NFL. The Redskins were the first team to reach out to him this offseason, offering a golden opportunity.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure that I would get another opportunity, but I had to be ready in case I did," he said. "I'm here now and just trying to make the most of it."
After recovering from his burns, Stallworth was eager to get back to training, recognizing that his body didn't get in shape as quickly as it used to.
"Once I was able to start back working out it took a while for me to feel like myself again," Stallworth said. "You know getting up there a little bit in age, but once I started feeling like myself, my confidence came back.
"Three weeks later I got the phone call [from the Redskins]. I've got a lot of rust and a lot kinks to work out, but it felt good today being back out here and like I said, just take it one practice at a time."
Donté Stallworth said he is hopeful he will leave Redskins minicamp with a contract, something that head coach Mike Shanahan confirmed was in the works.
"I was hoping that we could get him back," Shanahan said of Stallworth. "I thought he made a couple plays today that he looked very good. Hopefully we'll get a chance to sign him in the next couple days. He impressed me today."
Regardless of the reassurance, Stallworth's career has shown him that nothing is guaranteed.
"I came in passed the physical yesterday with flying colors and came out here today, ran around a little bit and felt good," he said. "I have a lot of kinks to work out, but it felt great being back out here today.
"I tried to come out here and show that I was still able run around and make some plays. [I'm] just trying to make the most of this opportunity."
A lot has changed at Redskins Park since the last time Stallworth suited up for the team, but he said he was happy for the success of his former teammates.
"I've kept up with the team all last year and I still have a lot of friends still on this team within the organization. I kept in touch with a lot of guys throughout the course of the past year, and really, I've been excited for them," he said. "Last year, they had a great season and I know now they've been trying to build on that, hopefully I can be a part of that this season."
The playbook may have changed a lot since 2011, but Stallworth said he still picked up on a few plays he remembered from his first time around.
"There was some carryover from when I was here last," he said of the terminology. "I was able to remember some of the plays on the fly, honestly I was a little surprised at that—but pleasantly surprised."