The first time Dwayne Stanford met Adolphus Washington on the basketball court, he was the recipient of an elbow to the chest.
During their first AAU practice together in fourth or fifth grade, Washington made a drop-step move and elbowed his future high school teammate.
“He knew to stay away from me,” Washington joked this week.
But after that introduction, Stanford and Washington became very close friends and respected the competitiveness each other exhibited especially later as Taft High School standouts in football and basketball.
This Monday night will put their friendship on another level in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Ohio State (13-1) plays Oregon (13-1) in the national championship game at 8:30 p.m. ET in Arlington, Texas on ESPN.
“I’m very proud of both of them,” said former Taft football coach Mike Martin, who coached both players and is a former Bengals wide receiver.
“I can’t believe, one of the players that I coach at Taft High School will say he’s a college football national champion.”
Stanford, an Oregon redshirt sophomore wide receiver, and Washington, a junior defensive lineman at Ohio State – texted each other on a variety of topics like any other week and asked who they knew that will be at Cowboys Stadium.
“Bragging rights are going to be at an all-time high about this one,” Washington said. “Like, lifetime bragging rights.”
Said Stanford: “There is a little smack talk here and there. It’s two good friends.”
Taft football coach Greg Conwell was defensive coordinator for the Senators when Stanford and Washington were in high school. Both players had a variety of positions at Taft including participating on both sides of the ball.
Conwell plans to watch the game at a restaurant with other coaches on Route 4 Monday night but he can’t bring himself to cheer for either team.
Conwell hopes Stanford and Washington make impact plays on Monday night but does admit to wanting one just play happen. Conwell remembers a time when Stanford used to good-naturedly boast about dunking on Washington when they were younger.
“What I would love to see is Adolphus make a tackle on Dwayne – that would make my day,” Conwell said.
But the most significant point, Conwell says, is that Monday’s game is an incredible source of pride for the Taft High School community.
“It’s big for Taft to show no matter what school you attend – whether that’s inner city or suburban – if you put in the effort you can make it anywhere,” Conwell said.
When the U.S. Army All-Americans announced their verbal commitments in front a crowded media center at the high school in November 2011, the 2012 Taft graduates didn’t know if they would ever meet in a college game.
“It’s crazy,” Stanford said. “I never thought it would happen. It’s happening in the national championship game. It’s awesome and a blessing really.”
Stanford, who is from College Hill, is the Ducks’ third-leading receiver with 39 receptions. He has gained 578 yards and scored six touchdowns. His physicality against defensive backs has allowed to get open for a good degree of success.
Stanford, a sociology major, didn’t watch much of the Sugar Bowl after Oregon’s win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl Jan. 1 but said he was definitely rooting for Ohio State.
Stanford doesn’t return home often except mostly for Christmas break and the summer but he still has a sense of pride being from Cincinnati.
Washington, who is majoring in Sport Industry, wants to be an athletic director one day. The NFL may very well be in his future soon.
This season, Washington, listed at 6 feet 4 and 295 pounds, has 45 tackles including 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
“This season has been amazing for me,” said Washington, who is drawing serious attention of NFL scouts, according to ESPN.com. “I’m healthy and finally contributing to the team so I’m very excited to be in the national championship.”
Both players used to meet up at the ages of 9 or 10 at Millvalle Recreation Center on Beekman Street as youngsters where their parents worked.
Family helped set the basic foundation of humility, discipline and effort for both players, says Ohio State assistant women’s basketball coach Mark Mitchell, a former longtime Taft boys’ basketball coach.
Stanford and Washington helped lead the Senators’ basketball team to the 2011 Division III state basketball title in Columbus. Taft finished 26-1 that season.
Both players said this week the state title was their proudest moment at Taft.
Mitchell admires both his former players and the way they have conducted themselves leading up to the biggest stage of college football. Mitchell, who will watch the game with family and friends in his apartment in Columbus Monday night, knows he will have a mixture of emotions when the game ends.
“Win or lose, I will call them both and tell them how I am proud of them and love them,” Mitchell said.