Joe Torchia seemed destined for the NFL before he even set foot on a college campus.
One of the country's top tight end prospects coming out of high school, Torchia chose to attend Virginia, a school known for cultivating NFL talent at that position. Referred to by some as "Tight End-U," Virginia had groomed the likes of Heath Miller, John Phillips, Tom Santi and Jon Stupar. Torchia was supposed to be the next in line.
Nothing went according to plan. His final three seasons coincided with three different offensive coordinators, never allowing him to get settled into one system. Four games into a potential breakout senior campaign, Torchia went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
But Torchia knew he wasn't done. When his shoulder healed earlier this year, he began training harder than ever before, lifting and running six days a week while the NFL lockout dragged on. Finally, on July 30, his breakthrough arrived in the form of a phone call. The Washington Redskins wanted to sign him to a free agent contract. Torchia hopped on a plane from his native New York the next day.
Now the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end is in the same place his peers predicted five years ago: catching passes with an NFL logo on his sleeve.
"I've been relishing every moment of it and trying to make the most of it," Torchia said. "I'm just trying to work my way onto the team."
Indeed, Torchia's time with the Redskins could end as suddenly as it began. To make the 53-man roster, he will have to battle Chris Cooley, Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Mike Sellers, Tony Curtis, and Derek Schouman for three or four roster spots at the tight end position. The team's Aug. 16 acquisition of Curtis - a four-year veteran formerly with the San Francisco 49ers - has rendered Torchia's odds of making the final cut even slimmer than initially forecasted.
Although competition in practice remains heated, Torchia has savored the opportunity to learn. Cooley, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, and rising- star Davis have not been shy about providing the rookie with valuable advice. In a way, that has been an eye-opening extension of Torchia's senior season, when tight ends coach Scott Wachenheim - who coached the Redskins' unit in 2009 - showed tape of Cooley and Davis to his players.
"[Wachenheim] was always putting up clips of Chris and Fred, the ways they run their routes," Torchia said. "They're very savvy with the way they play. They're very personable; they welcomed me in, and I really appreciate that. It made it really easy."
Torchia's stint with the Redskins already has lasted considerably longer than that of Marc Verica, his former Virginia teammate who arrived at Redskins Park as an undrafted rookie free agent quarterback the day before Torchia. Verica, who threw for 2,799 yards and 14 touchdowns at Virginia last season, was released from the team after just one practice.
"Obviously you hope that your teammate and roommate of three years does well," Torchia said. "It's unfortunate that it didn't work out, but I know Marc's a resilient kid and I know he's going to keep working hard. He'll find [a home] somewhere."
With final roster cuts only two weeks away, Torchia might soon find himself in the same position as Verica. Yet Torchia isn't thinking about plans for an uncertain future. After all, if he's going to live up to all the old hype, he must keep his concentration on the words seared on the placard at his locker: Washington Redskins.
"I'm just focusing on taking it one day at a time," Torchia said. "I've got to put my work in here, focus on the Redskins, and that's what I'm going to do."
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