Lifelong Cincinnati friends are national title game foes
DALLAS — They won a state basketball championship together in high school, but Adolphus Washington is just as eager to talk about the junior high city championship game that his team won over Dwayne Stanford’s team.
Fame is temporary. Bragging rights are forever.
"When we went against each other," Washington said, "I always won."
Next up? The biggest game of them all.
Star teammates in two sports at Cincinnati Taft High School — and before that, friends who played in pickup games and across the Midwest in AAU basketball tournaments — Washington and Stanford are on different sides in Monday night’s national championship game.
Washington is a defensive tackle for Ohio State, a key part of a position group that’s become a strength as No. 4 Ohio State has made an improbable run to the first College Football Playoff final. Stanford is a wide receiver for Oregon, an improving playmaker who figures to play a bigger role than usual Monday given recent Oregon losses at the position.
They’ve been best friends for a long time, and they say not even the stakes involved Monday can change that.
"(Hitting him) won’t be strange," Washington said. "Because it’s exactly what I’ve wanted to do."
Washington hoped they’d extend their childhood athletic partnership at least through college. He knew early in the recruiting process that he wanted to head 100 or so miles north and play for Ohio State, and he thought his friend would follow.
But Oregon was one of many power programs nationally that became interested after seeing the impressive highlight reel Stanford had crafted at Taft High — "He made crazy catches," Washington said — and because Chip Kelly’s Oregon program sold itself to receivers who liked flash, Nike swooshes and tempo, Stanford was an easy sell.
"Easiest recruiting job I’ve ever done," said Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who was then the receivers coach. "About halfway through the season I got a call from one of his high school coaches that said he had a receiver who wanted to go to Oregon, and as soon as we did the legwork I went out and saw (Stanford). I visited on Tuesday and Wednesday, I think, he came to see us on the weekend and he flew home that Saturday as a commit.
"We tried with Adolphus, too. I think he wanted to stay close to home. He seemed like a great kid and we obviously would have liked to have him."
Washington said he felt like Frost visited Taft "every day for a week" to see both, and though he felt Stanford was willing to go west he was not.
"He kept trying," Washington said of Frost. "I told him no. And then I told him no again, but I appreciated his efforts. If it wasn’t that far, I would have at least gone and visited"
Said Stanford: "Adolphus knew where he wanted go. I could try, but I knew there was no changing his mind."
Both have succeeded. The 6’4, 295-pound Washington is a three-year contributor and two-year starter who moved inside from defensive end earlier this season. He has 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks this season and probably has an NFL future. Stanford, who’s listed at 6’5, 205, is a redshirt sophomore who has 39 catches for 578 yards and six touchdowns for the Ducks, who are piloted by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"Dwayne has been a playmaker for us," Frost said.
College football has been pretty good to a couple kids who used to play basketball together at the Millville Recreation Center in Cincinnati for what Stanford called "hours…almost every day."Stanford said basketball came first for both "probably up until our junior year…and even then we fought it." They stuck with basketball even after finalizing their football futures and helped Taft win an Ohio Div. III state title as juniors.
"We thought we’d be NBA stars," Washington said, laughing.
They’re proud of their roots, too.
"For us to both have come from a very rough place, from inner-city Cincinnati and to be here now, I hope it shows kids they can do it," Washington said. "It takes work, but I hope kids (there) see us. I hope they know you don’t have to be a rapper, you don’t have to sell drugs, you can work your way to better things."
Said Stanford: "It shows people outside of Cincinnati that there’s talent in the city, and it shows the kids down there that they can do anything they want if they work, if they listen to their coaches, if they keep their grades up."
Stanford said the two communicate via text message "almost on a daily basis" and are rooting for one another in every game except this next one. Oregon won the Rose Bowl national semifinal on the afternoon of Jan. 1, and by the time Ohio State was finished beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl that night, Washington had a text message waiting for him in the Ohio State locker room.
"See you in Dallas," Stanford wrote.
Monday night, they’ll meet again.
For the national championship. And for lifelong bragging rights.