R.J. Washington went from can't-miss recruit to running the scout team defense for two seasons at Oklahoma.
That was a tough reality for someone ranked as the No. 1 defensive end recruit in the nation -- forget Texas -- his senior season at Keller Fossil Ridge. Among Washington's countless accolades were being named a Parade All-American, an EA Sports All-American and being chosen for the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
At OU, though, Washington found himself in line for a redshirt his freshman season. In 2009, his second season with the Sooners, he was a backup defensive end and appeared in only four games.
Oklahoma won the Sun Bowl after the '09 season, but Washington felt a change of scenery might be in his best interest to revive what had been a promising career. He told his position coach at the time of his plans to transfer.
But Washington didn't follow through on those initial thoughts.
"I wanted to transfer, I'm not going to lie," Washington said. "But I stuck it out. My teammates that I have -- it would've been hard to leave them. I'm not mad at the decision at all."
He shouldn't be.
Washington didn't start last season but broke into the regular rotation as a junior. He played in all 13 games and recorded five sacks. The highlight came at last year's Insight Bowl in Arizona.
Washington had two sacks in his first multiple-sack game and helped OU beat Iowa 31-14.
"That game meant a lot, and it's what gave me the added confidence going into this season," Washington said. "It also gave the coaches confidence in me that I can do more and be more effective. It was just a confidence boost on both sides, and it's been rolling since then."
Washington spent the off-season working on his flexibility, improving his hand speed and technique and reading offensive plays more efficiently. The extra work paid off when Washington found himself atop the depth chart as a senior leader this season, the first time he's been a regular starter since high school.
And, while the Sooners bring in the best of the best to compete for starting spots, it's not like Washington hadn't been around talent before. In fact, at one time the defensive line at Fossil Ridge would have had some college coaches jealous.
Along with Washington, in 2006, the Panthers had a line full of future Big 12 players in Chris Perry (Texas Tech), Robert T. Griffin (Baylor) and Lawrence Rumph (Texas Tech).
"Nice 4A defensive line," Fossil Ridge coach Tony Baccarini said in an understatement. "But it's nice to see R.J. starting at OU. Just a tremendous pass rusher with a tremendous motor that you don't find very often."
The passion and work ethic Washington has rediscovered has been noticed by the OU coaching staff, as well.
"He's got a great attitude, great team player," defensive ends and assistant head coach Bobby Jack Wright said. "He's kind of an extra coach out there on the field. He's got a great rapport with the players."
One of the players Washington has taken under his wing is former Fort Worth Dunbar standout Rashod Favors, who recorded his first college sack in the season opener against UTEP.
Washington joked that the two Tarrant County players on the D-line frequently will remind fellow DFW teammates that they're from the "Funky Town" side.
During the game, though, the Sooners' defense is all business. They have held their first two opponents, UTEP and Florida A&M, to a combined 20 points.
Washington has nine tackles with one for a loss.
"I felt I could've made more plays, but at the same time you can't be unhappy when you're undefeated," Washington said.
The road is about to get tougher for sixth-ranked OU with Big 12 play beginning Saturday against No. 15 Kansas State. The Wildcats' offense features Heisman candidate and mobile quarterback Collin Klein, but Washington said the Sooners will be ready.
"It's not the first mobile quarterback we've faced," he said. "But you've got to get pumped for every game, regardless of the opponent."
That's what Washington did in high school, and the juices are finally flowing again at Oklahoma.
"Those first couple of years wasn't what I expected," Washington said. "I didn't grasp the whole concept. It was hard for me to like football for a while, but I grew up and fell back in love with it. I guess I'm blessed in that way."
At one time, Keller Fossil Ridge had four future Big 12 players starting on its defensive line. A look at its 2006 D-line:
One of the top defensive recruits in 2008, Washington has finally cracked the top of the Sooners' defensive end depth chart as a senior.
Originally committed to Miami, Perry transferred to Tech and was a key role player his four seasons. He appeared in nine games as a senior last season.
Robert T. Griffin
Transferred to Euless Trinity his final two high school seasons and went on to start for the Baylor offensive line. He was drafted by the New York Jets in April but didn't make the final cut.
Had 16 sacks his senior season at Fossil Ridge and then went to Navarro Junior College before landing at Texas Tech.
College: Oklahoma High School: Keller Fossil Ridge
Age: 23 Position: DE Height: 6-3 Weight: 256
Notable college stats: Recorded 1/2 a sack in 2009 as redshirt freshman; played in nine games as a sophomore; played in all 13 games as a junior, recording five sacks; started first two games this season as a senior.
High school honors: No. 1 defensive end in the nation (Rivals.com and ESPN); No. 11 overall player in the nation (ESPN); Parade All-American; 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant; EA Sports All-American.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760