Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Louisiana Sports Hall selects '61 Xavier University (La) grad Otis Washington

From Ed Cassiere, Xavier University

NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame selection committee finally noticed Otis.

Otis Washington -- a 1961 graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and a football coaching legend at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans -- was announced Tuesday as one of the 2015 inductees.

"Frankly, I was surprised," Washington said from his home in Baton Rouge, La., about an hour after the inductees were announced. "I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said I never thought about getting in. But after a while, I kind of forgot about it."

Washington, who turned 75 in February, will enter the hall with stellar credentials. His St. Aug teams won state championships in 1975, 1978 and 1979 in the LHSAA's highest classification at the time, AAAA. He parlayed that success into football jobs at LSU, Southern and Tulane, including head coach of the Jaguars from 1981-86.

In July 2003, the Times-Picayune newspaper rated Washington's 1975 St. Aug team -- which was 15-0 and defeated previously unbeaten Covington 35-13 in the championship game -- one of the 10 best in New Orleans history and the best of the 1970s.

"Coach Wash was a person you trusted and believed in. He lived up to that standard every day," said Jerry Reese, a  St. Aug defensive back from the early '70s who played for the University of Oklahoma and two seasons with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. "When he said he was going to do something, he did it. He was a very disciplined coach and knew his X's and O's.

"He changed my life. He wasn't just a coach. He was a mentor, a father figure. He always made sure we took care of our studies. He cared about us."

Washington will be enshrined on Saturday, June 27 to culminate the three-day LSHOF Induction Celebration. Also inducted in 2015 will be football's Kevin Faulk, Jake Delhomme and Leonard Smith, basketball's Avery Johnson, coaches Pat Collins (football) and Yvette Girouard (women's softball) and thoroughbred horse trainer Frank Brothers.

Washington came to Xavier in 1957 on a football scholarship -- he was a 5-foot-10, 195-pound offensive guard and linebacker -- after graduating from R.B. Hudson High School in Selma, Ala. He was part of a Selma pipeline which included Joseph Jackson, another athlete and the father of current XU men's basketball coach Dannton Jackson.

"They weren't all athletes who came to Xavier from Selma," Washington said. "At one point at Xavier we had about 20 from Selma at the same time. I don't know when it started, but Father Nelson Ziter, an Edmundite priest with the Don Bosco Boys' and Girls' Club in Selma, had a connection with the nuns at Xavier. It ballooned into something big."

Washington was a captain on XU's football and baseball teams and was All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in both sports. A catcher, Washington said three major-league teams -- the Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators -- scouted him and expressed interest in signing him. Washington was a junior when Xavier played its last intercollegiate football game, a 21-9 victory against city rival Dillard on Thanksgiving Day in 1959.

"We were just hanging on," Washington said of Xavier's financial decision to end athletics in the spring of 1960.

Xavier honored all athletic  scholarships after dissolving its teams, and Washington, with three years invested, opted to finish at XU. He received a bachelor of science degree in physical education.

XU baseball coach John Crowe recommended Washington to St. Aug for a teaching and coaching job that Washington landed shortly after graduation. St. Aug named Washington its head football coach soon after the 1968 season, and he remained in that position for 11 seasons.

"When I became head coach, we were starting our third year in the LHSAA," Washington said. "I never doubted if we would be successful. But it wasn't easy playing in the Catholic League. We competed against some great coaches like Bobby Conlin at Brother Martin and John Kalbacher at Holy Cross, and their teams showed it on the field. They were well-rounded, and they knew what they were doing.

"We stayed up a lot of nights at St. Aug just trying to keep up."

The late nights, obviously, paid off. In addition to the state titles, Washington's St. Aug teams won seven Catholic League championships.

Washington has few XU mementos -- his diploma, two yearbooks, a trophy which honored him as the 1958 team MVP and the silver dollar from the winning pregame coin toss with Dillard in 1959 -- but he maintains plenty of admiration for his alma mater.

"To this day," Washington said, "Xavier is one of the best schools in this country. I tell everybody this."

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