On Thursday, the Seahawks defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-14 to kick off the 2023 Preseason. Fourth-year wideout Easop Winston Jr. caught one of three Seattle passing touchdowns, the first receiving score of his NFL career. The Washington State alum took the touchdown ball home with him as a gift for his mother - a symbol for the road traveled on his NFL journey.
The San Mateo, California native grew up well-versed in sports long before he was a multi-sport athlete at Junipero Serra High, playing basketball and running track in addition to shining on the football field. Winston's mother, Renee, recalled his affinity for football at a young age, and a habit of sleeping with one since his adolescent years.
"From fifth grade to the twelfth grade," said Renne Winston. "He slept with the football every night."
Winston would lead the Padres to their first-ever championship in any sport as a senior. But the offers didn't come, at least not for his athletic prowess. After receiving educational scholarship offers from most of his top choices, Winston enrolled at City College of San Francisco. As a sophomore, Winston caught 71 passes for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 2018, Winston transferred to Washington State University, where he'd have an immediate impact on the Cougars' offense.
In 13 games as a junior, Winston caught 52 passes for 654 yards and 8 touchdowns. In his senior campaign, he improved his production, catching 85 passes for 970 yards and 11 touchdowns. Despite a 2019 All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention, Winston went undrafted in the 2020 draft, signing with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent. But he wouldn't make it to the regular season, being a casualty of final roster cuts that September.
In 2021, Winston was signed and released by the New Orleans Saints multiple times throughout the summer before being waived during the preseason. The 2022 season brought a similar start for Winston even in a new location, as he was signed and waived by the Cleveland Browns within two weeks last August. But after signing to Seattle's practice squad last October, Winston flashed enough to sign a reserve/future contract with the team in January. With most starters sitting out for Seattle's preseason opener against Minnesota, Winston took advantage of an opportunity to shine.
With four minutes remaining in the first half, Seattle trailed 10-0, as the team struggled to shake the offseason rust. On four targets, Winston caught three passes for 29 yards and the score that kick-started Seattle's comeback victory. With the Seahawks in the redzone, quarterback Drew Lock threaded a needle between multiple defenders to Winston coming across the middle for a score to bring Seattle within three. The 26-year-old broke out in dance with his teammates in the endzone, but as the offense transitioned to special teams for the extra point, Winston didn't lose track (or possession) of the touchdown ball for long. Following the win, Winston arrived at his postgame press conference with the ball tucked under his armpit, as if he was carrying it through the rows of chairs in the room for another score. With his moment in the spotlight, Winston reflected on his feelings about fitting in with the team.
"I feel very comfortable," said Winston. "It just feels like home. Obviously, I'm a Coug so I've been in Seattle a bunch of times. I never thought I'd be here, but I am now and it's been great ever since I stepped foot into the facility. Like I said, it's been great and I just want to keep it going and put my best foot forward."
When asked about what he'd do with the ball, Winston declared it as a gift for his mother, who'd been in his corner since the start.
"I'm giving this to my mom," said Winston. "This is my first touchdown in the NFL and it's my fourth year. This is a big moment for me and she sacrificed a lot for me so I think it's only right that I give it to her."
And after switching teams multiple times without an opportunity to cross the pylon in a game, the Washington State alum broke down after the score.
"I think that was a culmination of practice," said Winston. "Obviously, we practice that play a lot and Drew saw a look that he liked and gave me a look so I kind of knew what I was doing. He hit the ball into a tight window. There were three guys surrounding me and I just had to make sure I secured it going down. It was a great feeling that we completed that."
As Seattle prepares to face the Dallas Cowboys at home for Week 2, Winston will look to keep the momentum going. Seattle will look to move to 2-0 on their preseason schedule, and get healthier going into the season. The journey doesn't stop here for Winston, but it's worth taking a moment to appreciate a milestone and a dream coming full-circle.
Check out some of the best action shots from Preseason Week 1 vs. the Minnesota Vikings at Lumen Field on August 10, 2023. Game action photos are presented by Washington's Lottery. This album will be updated throughout the game.