Darrick Forrest impresses in first NFL start for Washington Commanders

After celebrating his toe-tapping, game-sealing interception, Washington Commanders second-year safety Darrick Forrest was running back to the sideline through a mob of overjoyed teammates when equipment assistant Justin Brooks pulled him aside. Brooks wanted the ball.

“I was trying to run home with it; I’m not going to lie,” Forrest said.

Reluctantly, Forrest gave the ball to Brooks, who raced to one of the equipment trunks behind the bench. Staff members had been busy all game — they’d saved the balls from rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson’s first catch and first touchdown — and again Brooks pulled out the yellow, foamy material players use before taping their ankles. He wrapped the ball twice, then pulled out white medical tape and wrapped it twice more.

With a Sharpie, he wrote “Q4 1:10 28-22.” On the next line, he wrote Forrest’s number, “#22,” and “INT.”

On a Sunday afternoon with a lot of big firsts — first game of the season, first game as the Commanders, first game with quarterback Carson Wentz — perhaps none was as important as Forrest’s first interception. In his first career start, Forrest replaced starter Kam Curl (thumb) and recorded a forced fumble, two pass breakups in the end zone, five tackles and the pick that sealed a six-point win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“It’s really surreal,” Forrest said.

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Last year, the fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati hurt his hamstring in the preseason and didn’t return until Week 10. He played only 26 defensive snaps. This year in training camp, Forrest practiced at slot cornerback in the big nickel subpackage, but after the second preseason game, when Curl hurt his thumb, the team moved Forrest from “Buffalo nickel” back to safety, where he’d excelled in college .

Forrest’s agent, Aston Wilson, said he seemed relaxed Saturday night at the team hotel. But hours later, just before kickoff, Forrest admitted his “adrenaline was rushing. … I had a little bit of butterflies in my stomach.” In Section 109, Wilson sat with Forrest’s girlfriend, uncle, younger brother and father, Darrick Sr.

On the last drive before halftime, Forrest made his first big play. On second down, he leveled Jaguars running back Travis Etienne and popped the ball loose. (It rolled out of bounds.) On the next play, quarterback Trevor Lawrence targeted wide receiver Zay Jones in the back of the end zone, and Forrest deflected it.

To open the second half, Jacksonville scored and, down 14-9, decided to go for two. Lawrence wanted to find tight end Evan Engram in the back of the end zone, but Forrest again swatted the pass away. Forrest wasn’t surprised that the Jaguars kept testing him — “It’s my first time starting,” he said — and he added that he was grateful to prove he could cover, that he wasn’t just a box safety who liked to hit.

“They’ve been drilling me all week: ‘Just make [the most of] your opportunities. You’re going to be in position to make a lot of plays. Go out there and make those plays,’” he said. “That’s what I did today.”

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On the next drive, Forrest thundered downhill to deliver another big hit. This time, Jaguars wide receiver Jamal Agnew ducked, and Forrest’s helmet smacked into Agnew’s. Forrest was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Washington pulled Forrest off the field to evaluate him for a concussion, but after the game, Forrest said he was fine and never felt any effects of a head injury. He said the team wanted to test him to be cautious.

He was asked if he thought he should have been flagged.

“No comment,” he said, grinning. “It’s football.”

Late in the fourth quarter, on third and 11, Forrest saw wide receiver Christian Kirk running an over route. Forrest started running with Kirk, and after a moment, he peeked back.

“The ball was floating,” he said. “I started running as fast as I could to it. I [saw] the receiver coming to me. [I hit the] toe-tap, and I just …” He paused. “I was ready to turn up.”

Immediately, Forrest beelined for the back corner of the opposite end zone, for Section 109. He looked into the crowd for the faces he loved most. Darrick Sr. had seen his son excel at Walnut Ridge High School in Columbus, Ohio, then at Cincinnati, and although he was proud of his son for his play Sunday, he did not consider it unusual.

“It was just like a normal day because I know what he can do,” Darrick Sr. said. “I’m happy he got a chance to show everybody who he was.”

In the locker room afterwards, TV cameras crowded around Forrest’s cubby, and his teammates razzed him. “Ooh, he got money,” Curl joked when Forrest put on his chain that, in diamonds, read “DFOE,” which is his nickname and stands for “Devoted to Family Over Everything.”

“I’m just super proud of him because I can remember, a year ago, he didn’t know where to go or how to start,” cornerback William Jackson III said. “But now, just to see him go out there and do that… man, I was just super happy for him.”

By 9 pm, Forrest and a few teammates would be back at his house, living a childhood dream, watching his highlights, Dad on the grill making smoked wings, burgers, corn and collard greens.

But right after the game, as Forrest left to celebrate, Brooks, the equipment manager, left to drive back to team headquarters in Ashburn. Later that night, as Brooks unpacked and cleaned, he came across the ball. He had a long night ahead of him, but by the time Forrest arrived at the facility Monday, the ball would be there waiting for him on the red, padded seat of his locker.

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