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OU recruits legendary Washington to help enhance âO Clubâ project
Whether itâs a shot at the end zone, breaking the color barrier in professional auto racing or the chance to raise awareness for a good cause, Joe Washington is all about seizing opportunities. So, when he got the chance to return to the place where he electrified Sooner fans in his infamous silver shoes, he jumped on it.
âI am always looking for different challenges, and this is one,â Washington said from his Baltimore office. âThis is an opportunity to be a part of the program, to come back to my alma mater.â
In April, Washington was named special assistant to the athletics director and executive director of the Varsity O Association at the University of Oklahoma. The position is new, part of a restructuring of the organization to reach out to former OU student-athletes. Much like his playing days, he was handed the ball and he took off running, assuming his new role immediately.
âThere were certain things they were looking for as far as enhancing the program that had been started a few years back,â Washington said. âThe great guys that were doing the O Club were volunteering and operating on their own resources. I am getting the chance to come back and hopefully add on to what those guys created.â
For the past several years, the âO Clubâ has been headed by former assistant football coach and assistant athletics director Don Jimerson.
More than 30 years have passed since Washington, a two-time, All-America running back, last donned the crimson and cream. In 1974 the 5-foot-10, 178-pound âLittle Joeâ ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game, finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy, was a consensus All-America selection and was voted the NCAA Football Player of the Year.
The following season, he repeated as a first team All-American and placed fifth in the Heisman voting. Above all, Washington was a key factor to the Sooners winning back-to-back national championships.
Washington rescued the Sooners from a late-season loss to Missouri in 1975 when he scored on a 71-yard run in the final moments and then added the game-winning two-point conversion. OU went on to beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl to earn its second straight title.
For all of his accomplishments during a dazzling career at OU (1972-75), Washington was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Yet while his ability to break tackles and leap over lineman is legendary, it is not limited to his time as a Sooner. Taken as the No. 4 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers during the 1976 National Football League Draft, Washington spent nine years in professional football.
In 1979, Washington led the NFL with 82 receptions for 750 yards, while playing for the Baltimore Colts. That same season, his lone Pro Bowl campaign, he had 242 carries for 884 yards and seven touchdowns.
Later with the Washington Redskins, he played in Super Bowls XVII and XVIII and is listed as one of the 70 greatest Redskins of all time. When Washington ended his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1985, he retired with 4,839 rushing yards, 3,413 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns, as well as a Super Bowl XVII ring.
A native of Port Arthur, Texas, where his father coached football at Lincoln High School, Washington successfully navigated his way through the various levels of the sport. He attributes his success to having good people around who were looking out for him.
This kind of mentoring is one of his main goals for his new job.
âOne of the things we feel we need to do is provide mentorship to our athletes,â he said. âYou really donât learn a lot of things without someone helping you. You can learn things on your own, but if you can have someone give you a head start, that always helps a great deal.â
The Varsity O Club, founded in 1925 as the Lettermanâs Club, has functioned as a service organization to help student-athletes. It existed when Washington was an OU player, but on a different scale.
Editor's Note: Read the rest of this story in the 2007 Football Preview issue of Sooner Spectator... available on newsstands or by calling toll free, 1-888-335-4385.