As Matt Washington sat there, flanked by family and friends, he took a moment to think of how he got to that point.

The tough decisions he had to make, the hardships he and his family endured, and the blessing that changed his outlook all led him to a table back at his alma mater of Port Charlotte High, signing to play basketball at Weber International University, an NAIA Division I school in Babson Park, Florida.

This was the second time Washington found himself donning a college cap, excited to make his college decision. But this one had much more meaning.

Washington was a standout basketball player for the Pirates before graduating in 2016. At 6-feet tall, he played below the rim, but was a strong athlete and could score when Port Charlotte needed him to.

"27 years of being involved in high school basketball, he would rank in my top five of just being a winner," Port Charlotte basketball coach Kip Rhoten said. "He would do whatever it takes. There was a time in the past where Sean Price was sick one day. Sean Price was our leading scorer and wasn't there and Matt stepped up and hit like 46 that game. He was a winner."

His size deterred some schools, but Washington was able to land an offer from Warner University in Lake Wales. 

Though he was living his dream of playing college ball, the situation wasn't working out. He had a successful two seasons, but ended up leaving the program.

That began the process of getting back to college athletics.

It was tough. After playing for a large portion of his life, he was without it for a stretch. That caused a downward turn that put him in a bad place mentally. To compound things, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment causing a mental and financial strain on the family.

But his surrounding support group wouldn't let him give up.

"I got to a point where I was about to hang it up," Washington said. "But my friends around me told me I had to keep going. With my mom battling breast cancer, it was hard on us. I knew I had to try again. It was the least I could do. I had to do it for them."

In the midst of all his struggles a blessing in disguised arose. With everything he was enduring through, he became a father and would be looked up to by his son, Matt Washington Jr., who is about to turn 2 years old.

It changed his entire outlook.

"A lot of people might view being a young father as a bad thing, but it changed everything for me," Washington said. "I had to keep going because I want to set a good example for him later on. I don't want to just be some NAIA basketball player and that's it. He made me push harder to get to this point."

Washington, who was holding a manager position at Winn Dixie at the time, decided he wanted to take another shot at collegiate basketball and was able to secure an offer from Weber International.

After fighting through one of the rougher times in his life, he earned his second chance and plans to make the most of it for himself and anyone who continued to believe in him.

"He just kept plugging and kept working and when he got another opportunity, he made the best of it," Rhoten said. "To sign with Weber, I was very proud of him. That's life sometimes. It gets hard, but you just keep pushing toward your goal and things will happen.

"He never made excuses or felt sorry for himself or try to blame people. He just kept plugging along and it happened for him."

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.

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