STILLWATER, Okla. -- The Big 12 lost a trio of receivers that secured a spot in the national spotlight during the 2015 season.
Baylor's Corey Coleman became a weekly highlight reel en route to the Biletnikoff Award. Josh Doctson helped TCU to another double-digit win season while proving unstoppable before a season-ending wrist injury. Meanwhile, some coaches in the conference felt like Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard was the best of the bunch.
All three are preparing to turn their elite talent into NFL riches, leaving a void atop the Big 12 landscape heading into the 2016 season.
Oklahoma State's James Washington seems ready to fill the void while becoming a household name. The junior is largely remembered for shredding TCU's defense with five receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-29 win over the Horned Frogs. Washington added 100-yard performances against Kansas State, Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma during his breakout junior season that ended with second-team All-Big 12 honors. He finished with 53 receptions for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns, and enters 2016 as the only returning 1,000-yard receiver in the Big 12.
"I try to overlook that and work on getting better," Washington said of his status as one of the conference's most productive returning pass-catchers. "And making sure my teammates are getting better."
While Washington was making big plays that helped boost Oklahoma State into the Allstate Sugar Bowl, he caught the eye of Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who told the folks in Stillwater he was a fan of Washington during his return to Stillwater for Oklahoma State's uniform reveal earlier this month.
"It makes you feel like the hard work you're putting in is paying off," Washington said when told of Bryant's praise. "He (Bryant) has set the bar high for all the other receivers (that play at Oklahoma State). I put in hard work every day to try to live up to the expectations that were left here by Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon."
Bryant-- who starred at Oklahoma State from 2007 to 2009 -- is often the guy who recruits, particularly receiver recruits, point to as an inspiration for their interest in Oklahoma State. His time at Oklahoma State is not unlike Washington's. The Lufkin, Texas, native made a significant impact as a true freshman before a breakout sophomore season with 87 receptions for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2008. His junior season ended after three games after he lied about an offseason interaction with Deion Sanders which eventually resulted in Bryant being ruled ineligible.
Blackmon, the only one of the trio who redshirted, also had a breakout sophomore season, earning the Biletnikoff after catching 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010. He left Stillwater as a two-time All-American and Biletnikoff award winner after a junior season that included 122 receptions for 1,522 yards and 18 scores.
The unrivaled production of Bryant and Blackmon leaves a lasting legacy that Washington hopes to live up to. And if he does, Washington will rise into the stardom void left by the Big 12's star receivers.
"I feel like by working hard in practice, I can live up to that and make those guys proud," Washington said of following in Blackmon and Bryant's footsteps. "If I'm anywhere close to that, I'm doing pretty good."