Raccoon. Wild hog. Squirrel. Deer. Usually with a shotgun. All in the small-town Georgia surroundings of Donalsonville, a long way from his new life as a rookie safety with the Washington Redskins.
“I don’t like to do deer too much,” Rambo said, “because I don’t have enough patience to stand there and wait for a long time.”
And he can fish. He says he once snagged a 12-pound catfish in a pond.
Rambo stalked a different sort of prey last week, and it was a big one that got away. In his very first spotlight moment in the NFL, he was left stumbling and empty-handed by Chris Johnson’s open field stutter-step during a 58-yard touchdown run in the Redskins’ preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans.
“I was expecting him to turn on his speed and just try to outrun me,” Rambo said Tuesday at training camp. “But he cut back. I was closer than I thought I was, so all I’ve got to do is take a shot and try to get him on the ground, try to grab something.”
Teammates and friends quickly pointed out that Johnson makes a living by making people like Rambo look foolish.
“I said to him that old phrase, ‘Welcome to the NFL, rookie,’” said former Georgia star Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels, Rambo’s distant cousin, confidant and fellow Donalsonville native. “But there was nothing he could do there. Chris Johnson’s going to do that to the majority of safeties in the league.”
It was a first impression, and Rambo is determined not to be defined by it. Dealing with such impressions has been recurring theme in his football life.
He used to be Bacarri Fudge until he switched to his father’s last name of Rambo in grade school. Actually, everyone called him Goo Fudge and then Goo Rambo from infancy all the way through high school, short for the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He spent his college years trying to leave the nickname behind, and for good reason: Introducing oneself as “Goo” doesn’t pack much of a punch in the locker room — and Bacarri Rambo is a really cool name for a football player.
“With a name like that,” Daniels said, “you’d definitely better be tough.”
Rambo also needs to define himself as someone who’s not constantly in trouble, having been suspended twice for a total of five games while in college at Georgia. His high school coach, Alan Ingram, said the suspensions resulted from inadvertent brushes with marijuana, the first time when police found it in the purse belonging to a woman riding in Rambo’s vehicle, and the second time when Rambo failed a drug test after inadvertently eating marijuana-laced brownies during a spring break trip.
Rambo said that Ingram’s accounts were accurate “in some areas.” Rambo declined to fill in the gaps.
“He was just trying to protect me,” Rambo said. “That’s behind me. I’m just trying to move on.”
Whatever the explanations, the path to redemption was much tougher the second time around.
“He wouldn’t answer my calls,” Daniels said. “I think he was embarrassed. I was only trying to help him out. I’ve seen way worse things happen to guys and they come through it. I understand that he got in trouble, but I wanted him to understand that it ain’t the trouble that’s going to write your history for you, it’s what you’re going to do from this point forward.”
The suspensions no doubt caused Rambo’s draft stock to sink like a stone, offsetting his 16 career interceptions with the Bulldogs. Once a projected high-round pick, he didn’t go off the board until the Redskins took him in Round 6.
It could turn out to be a steal. Rambo impressed coaches with his film study and field savvy during spring practices, and he’s been lining up with the starters from Day 1 of training camp. He gets feedback from regularly from Daniels, and next month he’s set to join Dan Land (1987-97) and Daniels (1996-2010) as recent players from Donalsonville (population about 2,700) to make an NFL regular-season roster.
“Dan was the foundation,” Daniels said. “I put up the wall, and now Bacarri’s got to put a roof on it.”
Which should happen as long as Rambo is hunting animals, receivers and running backs — and not trouble.
“You just have to watch who you put yourself around,” Rambo said. “And watch what you’re taking.”