The coaches, university itself and tradition were, of course, chief considerations for prospects that year. But a new factor emerged for Washington and his fellow recruits in the class of 1972 — varsity playing time as freshmen.
In January 1972, four years after allowing it in every other sports, the NCAA voted to make freshmen eligible for varsity participation in football and men’s basketball.
With that in mind, Washington signed a letter of intent with Oklahoma, he said, in large part because he’d have the chance to share a backfield with senior-to-be and All-American halfback Greg Pruitt.
“That was a real big deal,” Washington said. “That was a game-breaker. A lot of the other teams didn’t run the wishbone, and with a lot of them you’d be fighting for a spot in the I-formation.”
Washington was OU’s second-leading rusher in 1972, with 630 yards and seven touchdowns. When Pruitt couldn’t play against Nebraska late in the season, Washington’s silver shoes found the endzone in OU’s 17-14 win.
He ended his career at Oklahoma with 4,071 yards and 39 touchdowns, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was a two-time first-team All-American. The fourth overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, Washington retired with over 8,000 all-purpose yards and was a Super Bowl champion with the Redskins.
But would Washington have signed with Oklahoma if freshmen were still ineligible, with no chance to line up with Pruitt in the wishbone?
“Hmmm,” Washington said, thinking for six seconds before adding, “One of the deciding factors was Greg. Coach (Wendell) Mosely was a huge factor.”
Twenty-four seconds after the question was posed, Washington affirmed that he would’ve been a Sooner anyway.
“I think I probably would’ve come anyway,” he said, still staring ahead and deep in thought.
“Oklahoma just seemed to be the right place where everything fit for me.”