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DISD Legends Series:“The Greatest” John Washington aka John Jefferson (Pt. 1)

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By R. Lamar Brooks

The greatest pass catcher in the history of Dallas High School football got his start on the other side of the ball as a bull rushing defensive end. Robert “Rabbit” Thomas coached John Washington (later to become Jefferson) in high school at Roosevelt High School. Thomas and Washington both arrived at Roosevelt at the same time in fall 1971.

Prior to Thomas’ arrival at Roosevelt in September of 1971, he had fielded consistent championship teams at Pearl C. Anderson Junior High School and that’s where Thomas first spotted Washington.  At the time Washington was playing for Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School. “I didn’t see nothing like John on the field for Holmes,” said Thomas. “We played Holmes in the Cotton Bowl, and they had John playing defensive end,” he said.

As a point of reference, some may recall that Carter, South Oak Cliff (SOC), Roosevelt, Kimball and Skyline were the class of Dallas ISD High School football in the early 70’s and all except Skyline (11-AAAA) competed in these same district, 12-AAAA .  Class 4A was the top statewide classification at that time. These were the golden years in Oak Cliff in general and DISD football in particular.  For several years in a row, teams from district 12-4A made it to the state semifinals. This was prior to the watered down brand of Texas high school football of today with Division 1 and Division 2 champions crowned each year.

Washington starts strong

Washington burst on the scene in 1971 as a sophomore at Roosevelt, making his mark by gaining 741 yards on 41 catches with 9 of those going for touchdowns.  After a sensational start in 1971, the following year would prove to be Washington’s coming out party as he assaulted opposition defenses on his way to setting the standard for receivers inside and outside of Texas.

At the start of the 1972 season, Washington was on the shelf.  He’d sustained an early season ankle injury and didn’t return to action until the third game of the season against Woodrow Wilson. The 6’1, 185 lb. Washington hauled in 5 passes for 100 yards in the thrilling win. This performance not only helped his team win (19-15 score) but would thrust Washington into the Offensive Player of the Week section of the Dallas Morning News where he became a constant fixture over the next two years as Roosevelt’s feature receiver.

Roosevelt was considered one of the pass-happiest teams in the state during Washington’s time there. It was normal to go up against a team like Carter who would pass maybe ten times a game while Roosevelt would toss it around 30 to 40 times a game.  In an era of “3 yards and a cloud of dust,” Roosevelt was an anomaly. Roosevelt passed to set up the run, not the other way around.

At the end of the ’72 season, Washington was named District 12-4A Most Valuable Player and first team receiver on the 12-4A All District team. He finished as the leading receiver in the city and was described as “dangerous”, “ the city’s most exciting player” and “unstoppable” by sportswriters who marveled at his ability to consistently beat double and even triple team defenses. 

In one game against Pinkston, Washington caught 4 passes for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns (a 41-6 Roosevelt win). Not only did Washington thrive, but Roosevelt-led by Coach Thomas, quarterback Bobby Needum, understudy quarterback Keith Baker and Charles “Tank” Marshall-finished 8-1-1 and tied Carter for the district crown.  Thomas’ team had been picked to finish in the middle of the pack or worse. He won Coach of the Year honors for his leadership.

Washington becomes a legend at Roosevelt

Of Washington, Thomas said “He runs an almost perfect pattern, and he has a big, long stride. It doesn’t look like he is running as fast as he is, then he breaks off his cut and the defense just can’t stay with him. And he’s a smart kid with a “B” average. Nobody has to force him to go to class.”

“I think my best game was against Carter, they were the best defense we played. They used double coverage and then they had a man at the line bumping me, trying to knock me off my pattern.  I try to get past the first man in that situation and then get between the other two in the secondary” said Washington.

Coming off an outstanding season, all of Texas took notice as Washington was named to the All-Greater Dallas first team offense and named first-team All-State after the 1972 season.

Entering his senior year in ’73, the “most exciting player in Dallas” did not disappoint.  In the fourth game of the year, Roosevelt handed Woodrow Wilson a 47-6 defeat with Washington accumulating an absurd 254 yards receiving on only 7 catches (that’s 36 yards per reception by the way) with 3 touchdowns.  Washington hauled in 6 passes for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns in the FIRST HALF and did not play in the fourth quarter. 

Before the game, Woodrow’s coach Ken Kimbrell had said, “I’m going to be there the last day of May to make sure (Washington) gets his diploma, I don’t want him back next year.”  Kimbell went on to say “he’s as good a receiver as I have seen in a long, long time.”  Washington was named Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Woodrow Wilson game and by then had amassed 26 catches for 591 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 4 games.

By October of 1973, all of Texas was peering in at Roosevelt, the Oak Cliff power. Washington was rapidly approaching the state record for career yardage.  On October 5th, Roosevelt scorched the Sunset Bisons in district play as Washington overcame the by then routine double and triple teams to score a touchdown and 144 of Roosevelt’s 312 yards passing. Roosevelt improved to 5-0 on the season and 3-0 in district play while Washington finished the game just 79 yards short of the state record for career yards.  The record was held by San Antonio Lee’s Richard Osborne who amassed 2,485 yards during the 1969-71 seasons.

Going into the next game against Carter, Roosevelt was undefeated and perennial powerhouse Carter had only one blemish against Skyline (a 20-18 loss). The Thursday night matchup at Sprague Stadium was a good one.  Roosevelt averaged 236 yards passing and the Cowboys; primarily a running team was averaged 254 yards on the ground.

Roosevelt beat up Carter in the first half en route to a 19-3 halftime advantage. However in a tale of two halves Carter found its way in the 2nd half and shut down the Mustang aerial assault on the way to a 26-19 comeback victory. Roosevelt passed for 252 yards and outgained Carter 23-16 on first downs but hurt themselves with all manner of turnovers. 

For his part, Washington turned in another brilliant performance as he caught 9 passes for 163 yards. Washington became Texas’ all-time leading receiver in history with 9:04 minutes left in the second quarter as he passed Osborne and finished the game with 2,569 yards with 3 regular season games remaining.   

Though Roosevelt did not make the playoffs, the Mustangs made their presence felt by ending as district co-champions. It also helped to finish off their season (their second straight 8-1-1 record) with a 14-13 win against their fierce district rival, South Oak Cliff, an always entertaining grudge match. Washington finished with 59 receptions for 1,332 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns on the year and the all-time state record for career receiving yardage, totallying 2, 973 yards on 140 receptions (2nd all-time) and 36 touchdowns.

The Greatest: John Washington

Of course, post season honors poured in for Washington:

12-4A Offensive Player of the Year
1st Team-12 4A
All City-1St Team
All Greater Dallas Offensive Player of the Year
1st Team-All Greater Dallas
All State-1st Team
All Southern (with other notable selection: Earl Campbell)
1st Team All America (several All America teams including Parade)
Starter-Texas High School All Star game (played in the Astrodome)


Washington chooses A State

Looking towards the next level, Washington had his choice of schools (including USC, UCLA) as he was the premier receiver in the nation. The Pac-10 was more inclined to the forward pass while the Southwest Conference was still a Wing-T league. 

Washington settled on Arizona State where four years later he left as their all-time leading receiver achieving fame for “The Catch, a reception that many view as the greatest catch in Arizona State history.

The game pitted Arizona State (10-0, #8) versus Arizona (9-1, #12) with the WAC conference championship on the line as well as a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.  Though down 14-3 at one point in the game, Arizona State used Jefferson’s scintillating catch to seize momentum and to take the win, 24-21. 

Check back for more interviews with Washington’s former coaches, teammates, opponents and the man himself.

Roedwin (Roe) Lamar Brooks is an award-winning talent who has spent 15 years in the realm of Facility Management. In addition to his current role as adjunct Instructor with the Dallas County Community College District, Roe keeps busy as the founder of The Dallas Baseball Alliance, a non-profit youth baseball  organization.  Roe is a proud Dallas ISD alum and can be reached at lamar@dallasbaseball.net.

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