Football and family: Ken Washington joins brother in Texas HS football hall

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, May 5, 2018

Ken Washington recalled playing pee-wee football when he complained to his mother.

“She said, ‘Baby, you’re the quarterback,’” Washington said. “’You have to be whatever they want you to be.’ That stuck with me a lot.”

It also shaped how Washington, 61, who now lives in Spring, played the game at Lincoln High School and at the University of North Texas.

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“We weren’t a passing team,” he said. “Back then, we played a pro-style offense. We ran the ball 60 to 70 percent of the time. My responsibility was to do whatever we needed to win.”

Still, Washington would go on to throw for 4,014 yards in his three-year career (1971-73) at Lincoln, even as his older brother Joe Jr. was capping an All-America career that earned him a scholarship to Oklahoma.

“Ken, to me, is the most impactful player in the history of Lincoln football,” Joe Jr. said. “The reason I say that is because of the come-from-behind wins.

“They called him Cool Kenny. He had ice water in his veins. He was one of those silent assassins.”

A silent assassin who was easily heard, by Joe Jr.’s account.

“He’s still, to me, the epitome of the ultimate quarterback,” he said of Ken, noting Johnny Unitas was Ken’s favorite to play the position. “He was in control. He made sure everybody was listening, especially me.

“He was really more of the big brother. … It was second nature.”



Ken Washington was the quarterback behind one of Lincoln’s greatest football runs.

The brothers’ father, Joe Sr., was the head coach at Lincoln from 1967-93 and organized the Bumblebees’ greatest three-year run in its UIL history (1967-2001), going 30-4-1 while Ken was quarterback.

Joe Washington Jr. was a senior running back when Ken was a sophomore. Together, they helped Lincoln go 11-1 and win the first of three straight district championships.

Joe Washington

“The ’71-72 team set a standard around Lincoln,” Ken Washington said, naming teammates such as Glenn Comeaux and Anthony Bryant, who joined Joe Jr. at Oklahoma. “By far, that was the best team we played on. We went 11-1, and we would have won state had we not had Joe get hurt. I was too inexperienced to carry the team like I would have without Joe.”

A photo taken by Bart Bragg of Port Arthur showed Joe Jr. leaping over a pile into the end zone for a touchdown against Thomas Jefferson in the regular-season finale. Joe Jr. injured his leg on that play to end his season, but Lincoln won 22-14.

The next year, Lincoln faced a 24-13 deficit against Port Neches-Groves with 6 minutes left.

“We were up 14-0,” Ken recalled. “We took our foot off the pedal and they came back. Clyde Trahan caught a big first-down pass. Matter of fact, he caught a one-handed touchdown that put us ahead.”

Despite the run-heavy offense the Bumblebees ran, plays like that helped Ken gain a majority of his yards.

“When we needed a third-and-8 or whatever, that was my job,” he said. “Receivers were getting open. It was easy picking my sophomore year. I probably only threw 8 to 10 passes a game.”

Like his mom told him at a younger age, Ken had to be whatever the team wanted him to be.



As Joe Jr. arrived at the press conference for Saturday’s Texas High School Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Waco, where Ken was honored, memories of him and his brother growing up in the same room flashed through the 64-year-old’s mind.

“Immediately, my family, growing up in the same room, and both of us knowing there’s a chance to play together,” said Joe Jr., the oldest of three children who was inducted in 1991. (A middle sister, Pat, died in 2014.)

“That was our goal,” he continued. “Everything else was icing on the cake.”

Even the times when Joe Jr. pretended to be a radio announcer imagining Ken playing quarterback in that room with a bunk bed came to memory.

“We used to do those things,” he said. “It brings back all those unbelievable memories, playing football my senior year with him. It brings back a lot of life. He was always the most unbelievable competitor I’ve been around, and he was tough.”

Ken became the hall’s third member from Port Arthur. Todd Dodge, who quarterbacked Jefferson to a state title game in 1980, made it in 2006.

Each player inducted Saturday represents the decade in which he competed. Bobby Cavazos of Kingsville (1950s), Brad Dusek of Temple (1960s), Tommy Jeter of Deer Park (1980s), current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury of New Braunfels (1990s) and Johnathan Gray of Aledo (2000s) were honored, as was current Calallen coach Phil Danaher and former Buda Hays coach Bob Shelton.

The younger Washington wrapped up what he called a dream of his and Joe Jr.’s to play for Joe Sr. ever since they grew up in Bay City. Ken said the two never competed against each other, but just wanted to be the best at their positions.

“That year was nothing but fun for us,” Ken said, referring to Joe’s senior season of 1971. “We played to win, but the enjoyment was to hand off the ball to Joe, and I got the plays from my father. You got a lot of flack for [playing quarterback as a coach’s son], but I think Port Arthur now understood we were playing football. We weren’t just Coach Washington’s kids.”

Ken then signed with North Texas and became the Missouri Valley Conference’s 1974 Newcomer of the Year. The Associated Press named him co-back of the week following a 213-total yard game against SMU in his college debut.

Meanwhile, Joe went on to a decorated career at Oklahoma and won back-to-back national championships in 1974-75.

In 1977 North Texas went 10-1. Washington, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound African American college quarterback at a time when professional scouts often doubted the abilities of such, finished his Mean Green career that season with 4,313 total yards.

Of those, 3,040 were passing, resulting in 33 touchdowns.

He didn’t get to try out for an NFL team, but he made the practice squads of Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders. He then embarked on a nearly four-decade career with Xerox and AT&T in the field of sales.

Of course, it’s his football experience that inspired his planned acceptance speech.

“The biggest thing is, a lot of my career, everybody doubted me because of my size,” Ken said. “I know I wasn’t the biggest guy, but I didn’t think that mattered, anyway. You got a dream, pursue it. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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