Sheffield United: From postman to professional footballer, Conor Washington traces his unusual route into the game
Every time he laces up his football boots, before a training session or first team game, Sheffield United forward Conor Washington pauses for a moment to remember how quickly life has changed.
Six years ago, the Sheffield United centre-forward was traipsing the streets of Cambridgeshire and working as a postman after resigning himself to a career in non-league.
Today, four clubs and lots of hard work later, he is preparing to help his new club try and seize control of the Championship by beating Bristol City.
"Do you know what, I'd half given up on ever making it as a professional," Washington admitted at United's training ground.
"I was playing football at weekends, aged 19 or 20, and delivering letters in between.
'Then, out of nowhere, I managed to get a break and things just seemed to go from there."
Washington, now aged 26, was referring to his days St Ives Town where he scored 54 goals in less than 90 appearances.
Despite his doubts, and despite the fact they were competing five tiers below the Conference, the youngster's performances set in motion a chain of events which, earlier this month, saw him arrive at Bramall Lane following spells with Newport County, Peterborough and Queens Park Rangers.
"We were playing quite far down but an agent came along, saw me, and then started putting me towards clubs," Washington continued.
"He told Justin Edinburgh, who was in charge of Newport at the time, to take a look at me and things just happened from that moment on.
'It was a good place for me."
"They were Conference club," he continued. "But one that was really on the rise.
'It was a good fit for me because, similar to here, it was full of grounded lads, grounded players who were ready to give their all and put the effort in."
It is probably no coincidence, given the emphasis he places on character, that so many members of Wilder's squad have taken a similar route into the game. Paul Coutts, Mark Duffy and Jake Wright are among those to emerge from the amateur or semi-professional ranks, together with Washington's fellow new arrival Marvin Johnson.
"I think it really does help," Washington admitted.
"The team spirit here is brilliant and you can tell the character of the lads straight away.
'It wasn't too long ago that I was a a postie and I try and stay humble, take that in my stride every single day.
'Quite a few of the lads here have done something similar and it shows."
"You come into training pinching yourself because you're playing football every day," he added.
"You can't beat it and obviously, although you always want to get to the highest level possible, you realise where you've come from and just how lucky you are."
If both Middlesbrough and Leeds drop points, United could climb from third to first providing they win at Ashton Gate.
Having returned unscathed from international duty this week, Washington is expected to feature alongside his Northern Ireland colleague Oliver Norwood when Wilder's team visits the south-west.
"That partnership has been productive for Northern Ireland," Washington said.
"I love playing with Ollie because he takes risks on the ball and, as a striker, that's what you want. Couttsy and Duffy are the same.
"I feel like I already know the club because I've played against it so many times.
'I've always loved they wayÂ they play and go about it.
"The gaffer has alluded that he wanted competition but also people who could do different things, differentÂ types of things and at different points of games. I definitely think that's the case."