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James Washington is Oklahoma State's next big thing at wide receiver

STILLWATER, Okla. -- As he darted through his house to leave for a team workout, James Washington inadvertently smashed his knuckle on a door jam.

The pain instantly reverberated up and down his hand. But coming from the farmlands of West Texas, Washington grew up believing trips to the doctor were reserved for life-and-death predicaments.

Instead, Washington made his way to the Oklahoma State weight room, where he maxed out with 300-plus pounds on the power clean and bench press.

But days later, during the Cowboys' first spring practice, Washington's right hand continued to swell with every catch. Finally, trainers forced him to get an X-Ray, which, unsurprisingly, revealed a break.

"I thought it was just bruised or something," said Washington, who talked his way back to the practice field after a mere two days. "I was using it like it was good."

The knuckle saga underscored the notable traits -- toughness, strength, durability and deadly silence -- that have come to define the latest addition to Oklahoma State's ever-expanding line of star wide receivers.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Cowboys have produced three consensus All-American wide receivers.

Washington will enter his final season in Stillwater primed to give Oklahoma State its fourth.

"One of the reasons I came to Oklahoma State is because they've had so many years of great receivers come through here," Washington said.

"I want to be the next that everyone remembers."

Washington is well on the way.

As an unheralded, two-star recruit out of Stamford, Texas -- population 3,000 -- Washington arrived in Stillwater and stunningly won a starting job as a true freshman.

As a sophomore, Washington became only the fourth Oklahoma State underclassman to finish with more than 1,000 yards receiving, joining Justin Blackmon, Dez Bryant and Rashaun Woods -- all of whom became consensus All-Americans and first-round NFL draft picks.

As a junior, Washington ranked second in the conference, behind Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook, with 1,380 receiving yards while averaging almost 20 yards per reception en route to earning a first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Now a senior, Washington is sure to open the season on the short list of contenders for the Biletnikoff, awarded to the nation's top receiver.

"Those [receivers] that we talk about as great players here, he'll have an opportunity to [be one] in the end," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said.

"He's in that category."

Whether as a player, offensive coordinator or head coach, Gundy has interfaced with all five of OSU's wide receiver greats.

As Oklahoma State's quarterback in 1988, Gundy's favorite target was Hart Lee Dykes, who became the school's first consensus All-American at the position. Despite operating out of a run-first attack that featured Heisman winner Barry Sanders, Dykes hauled in almost 1,300 receiving yards before becoming the 16th overall pick in the draft.

"Seeing the guys that have come after me. ... it makes me smile," Dykes said. "The line we've had has been impressive."

It wasn't until the early 2000s, though, that Oklahoma State's budding tradition of big-time wideouts began to take off.

With Gundy calling plays as Les Miles' offensive coordinator, Woods finished his career with 42 touchdown receptions, which remained a Big 12 record until 2011.

In 2008, Bryant superseded Woods with his own consensus All-American campaign. Then in 2011, Blackmon became only the second FBS player to capture the Biletnikoff twice.

"It's just kind of snowballed," said Woods, who noted watching Dykes was a big reason why he ultimately signed with the Pokes. Likewise, Washington said he grew up a fan of Bryant's, which helped sell him on signing with Oklahoma State.

"Coach Gundy has an eye out for what he wants," Woods said. "... He knows what he's looking for."

In many respects, Washington is a culmination of the past at the position. He has some of Dykes' physicality, Woods' ball skills, Bryant's athleticism and Blackmon's hands.

But Washington's calling card has been his near unmatched prowess reeling in completions downfield.

"James has an uncanny ability," Gundy said, "to run by you, make the catch, and not only make the catch, but then run into the red zone."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Washington finished with 801 yards receiving last season exclusively off passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield. Only Westbrook, a Heisman finalist, produced more.

"[Washington] catches the ball at the highest point," Dykes said. "Most of the catches he makes downfield, they're difficult catches. But he makes them look routine."

That big-play ability prompted Washington to consider leaving early for the draft. But in the end, in the image of the decision Blackmon made to come back in 2011, Washington elected to return as well.

"I was the first person in my family to go to college," said Washington, an agribusiness major. "I wanted to get my degree to have something to show for it."

But getting his degree and improving his draft stock weren't Washington's only reasons for returning. Losing to Oklahoma in de facto Big 12 championship games the last two seasons has weighed on Washington since.

Woods' tenure in Stillwater was defined by monster performances in back-to-back wins over the Sooners. Blackmon, meanwhile, finished off his sterling college career with a 44-10 win in Bedlam, giving Oklahoma State its first -- and still only -- Big 12 championship.

"It's put a big chip on my shoulder," said Washington, who had only two catches in the 18-point defeat in Norman last year. "I came back. ... to win the Big 12. I've really been working every day to get us there."

Which is why Washington has no time to waste.

Not even for a broken knuckle.

"One of my goals is to continue the tradition of great receivers at Oklahoma State," Washington said. "If I don't, I'm letting those guys down. I'm letting down the team, the fans, because people are so used to great receivers.

"I'm always thinking about it. That's definitely something to hang my hat on -- to work hard for every day."