Photo: Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports

Before James Washington hauled in long bombs from Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State, he was winning state titles in Texas — with Stamford High School, to be specific.

The Bulldogs won state titles in 2012 and 2013. Coming from a town of just under 3,000 residents, it’s a big deal. By comparison, Houston and San Antonio range in the millions and well-known smaller cities like Lake Worth and East Texas’ Mabank have pushed the needle past 3,000 in recent years.

The city of Stamford blossomed to 2,984 in 2016.

Washington’s high school coach, Wayne Hutchinson, led the Bulldogs from 2006 to 2013. Hutchinson is now at Monterey High School. He remembers James well, though, and says he’ll text him on occasions or even see him back in Stamford.

At Stamford, Washington led the Bulldogs. The offense, though not revolving around him, did certainly rely on him to make big plays. In his three years on varsity, Washington caught 53 passes for touchdowns.

“I think we were unsure what he could do,” former coach Hutchinson said of Washington. “He went up to Oklahoma State and I think he elevated his game and continued to get better as the competition got better. It doesn’t surprise me.”

It helped the team had another pretty good receiver in Jessie Ramos, a senior during the 2012 state title run. He finished with 1,700 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns.

“[Washington’s] junior year he played inside receiver, we had another really good receiver in Jessie Ramos,” coach Hutchinson said of his 2012 Bulldogs. “They were our two best receivers. It allowed us to spread the ball out a whole bunch and I mean he was a big part. It allowed us to run the football and when we needed to throw it, we had Jesse and James.”

Lost In Translation

Before James Washington was the All-Star football player we all know, he was excelling in other sports. His history as a tennis, track and basketball player is well-documented. What isn’t, though, is how good he actually was and how well it helped him on the gridiron.

Hutchinson says he thinks the speed and coordination that came with the other sports helps him on routes even today. He says he believes Washington’s first love was basketball, where you could see how talented he truly was.

“We’d always talk to him about his raw talent, his jumping ability, it was heads and shoulders above people, when he jumped in the gym, for his height,” Hutchinson said. “Then you flip it over to track and he’s running 21.5-21.4 in the 200-meter dash and triple-jumping 47-feet. There’s your signs of being a great athlete.”

Solid Foundation

Admitedly, Hutchinson says he does not think Washington uses much of what he learned from Stamford. The receiving drills, catching better and route running is largely credited to Mike Gundy now.

“But most of his ability is god-given and he took it to the next level in college,” Hutchinson said. “I think he’s one of those kids that as the competition gets better, he gets better.”

He says he thinks the fundamentals of the sport, and of life, are what he got from his hometown.

“I feel like James grew into that as he was at Oklahoma State,” coach Hutchinson said. “I know his parents instilled in him the work ethic to get his grades and most of the kids in our small town had part-time jobs in the summer.

“It probably helped in the fact that they know how to work. They know once they work, they get rewarded. I think in that aspect, it really helps.”

Managing Attention

For most, attention is hard to manage. The level of attention one gets can always disrupt someone as a human. Whether it be cockiness, ignorance, whatever.

It has not seemed to be an issue for James Washington. At OSU, he hasn’t had any documented struggles with rules, off the field or not. He visits Stamford and according to Hutchinson, he has quite the fan club. What’s amazing is even that doesn’t get to his head.

Coaches might say they’re proud of former players making a name for themselves, racking up unbelievable stats or even grabbing amazing passes in big games. Coach Hutchinson says what he’s most proud of, is how the small-town James he knows, hasn’t changed much.

“I think we’re more proud of his humbleness and his character,” Hutchinson said. “He has not changed and let any of the hype go to his head. He’s just keeping his head on his shoulders very well.

“It makes you really proud. He plays the game the right way. He doesn’t care who gets the credit and he’s trying to do things for other people and in return, it’s uplifting him.”

The picture portrayed from the former Stamford coach is painted by the community as well. While trying to reach out to former friends, TexasHSFootball met with an unnamed employee in Stamford ISD.

Unable to speak on the record, the employee noticeably became excited at the mention of his name. Being a part of two teams that lost five games in three years will do it. Two of those runs ended with state titles — the town’s first since 1958.

Gerald Tracy is an assistant editor with TexasHSFootball, covering prep football in the San Antonio region. Follow him on Twitter, @GTracySports, and read more of his content here.

 

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