Washington: 'I grew up working'

In a state where everything is larger than life, Stamford, Texas is the complete opposite.

The population is around 3,000. The city is small and the area is rural, only 12.9 square miles, 6.9 of those square miles covered by water. And there are just two stoplights. Yes, two.

One of the biggest attractions fits the area perfectly, the Cowboy Country Museum. It’s also home to the Texas Cowboy Reunion, now in its 88th year as the world’s largest amateur rodeo, and attracting numbers way beyond the population of the city.  

When you look at the list of notable individuals who came from Stamford, it’s not long, and they aren’t the names you hear every day.

On that list, though, is someone familiar to the Steelers.

James Washington.

Washington, the wide receiver from Oklahoma State the Steelers selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, is the talk of the town in a town where everybody knows each other. The hometown kid, the one who worked at the cattle auction, cut grass and swept the sidewalks at the local funeral home and worked at Cowpokes Country Store, which has since closed its doors.

The high school athlete who didn’t stick to just football, but also basketball, track and tennis, where he was first-team all-region, and earned a black belt in taekwondo and also golfed in his ‘free time’.

He is the pride of Stamford. And that is something he takes pride in.  

“It’s home,” said Washington. “It’s a great place. I love it. It’s not big. It’s not city life. Some people love that city. That’s not me.”

One of the things he loves most about home, is the area that surrounds Stamford, an area rich in farmland, where he developed the strong work habits he brings with him to the Steelers.

His father, James Washington Sr., believed in hard work, spending his days working on area farms and ranches, not afraid of the blazing Texas sun. And his son joined him, mainly in the summer when the sun was at its hottest.

“I remember heading out at 6:30 in the morning, we would stop at the little convenience store and he’d get a cup of coffee, I’d get a Gatorade or chips or something and we’d head out to the farm,” said Washington. “Probably head in and get some lunch, then go back out after. Hard days.

“My dad, he mainly farms cotton and wheat. Cotton is more of a technical crop where everything has to be perfect. Rows have to be straight and everything. It takes a lot of work. For my dad, he’s like a one man job. He’s got a guy that helps him every once in a while, but he’s getting older, so every chance I get home I try to go help him and do what I can.”

His love of farming, his love of the land, his love of hunting and fishing, inspired him to earn a degree in Agricultural Business at Oklahoma State. It also inspired him to work hard, to never be afraid of a little bit of sweat to get what you want.

“I grew up working,” said Washington. “If I wasn’t in school or practice, I was helping my dad on the farm, or in the garage or around the house. I can’t tell you how many times I hauled hay when I was in high school. My dad wanted me to do it for strength and stamina. On those hot summer days, it definitely made me a good athlete.

“If you want to reap the benefits you have to put in work. Just like when we’re on a farm, if you want good crops you have to put in good work. Everything has got to be right. My dad always told me, ‘If you don’t do it right, you’re going to have to do it again.’ And that’s something that always stuck with my mind. So every time I’m on the field I’m going to try to do it right the first time.”

His dream to manage a farm or ranch might have to be on hold for a while, as the other dream he had is now a reality.

“Just to get that call from Coach (Mike) Tomlin on draft night, it just felt like a dream come true,” said Washington. “I dreamt of this as a kid and to get to this point and be here now is everything to me. I grew up watching the Cowboys just because it was close. As a kid, you look up to guys on those platforms that are at this level because they say only two percent of college players make the NFL. So, to be amongst that two percent, it shows how much you worked.”

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