Nov. 4, 2004
By Jonathan Price
Perhaps the greatest running back to ever play for the University of Washington, Napoleon Kaufman will be inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame on Friday (Nov. 5). As a player, his speedy quick moves left a lasting impression on the field.
Kaufman is Washington's all-time leading rusher, finishing his career with 4,401 yards. He played for the Huskies from 1991 to 1994. As a senior, he earned finalist honors in the Heisman trophy race. Kaufman set the Husky single-season rushing record in 1994 with a total of 1,390 yards, breaking the previous mark of 1,299 yards, which he set as a junior.
"Breaking those records means a lot to me because it speaks in terms of consistency, dedication, and commitment," says Kaufman. "My teammates around me really helped to establish a feat like that. It is something in the existence of that school that no one has ever rushed for more yards than I have, that really means a lot to me."
Staying at the University of Washington for his senior season was a no-brainer for Kaufman. In the last game of the year, the Apple Cup, the fans knew that Kaufman was contemplating leaving early to continue his football career in the NFL.
"My most memorable moment as a Husky has to be during my junior year when I was contemplating moving on to the NFL," says Kaufman. "We were playing against Washington State in the last game of the year. We were on probation and I could have gone to the NFL and probably been drafted in the first three years, but the crowd started chanting `one more year!' That day really sticks with me more than anything else. I have great appreciation for the fans for welcoming me there in the city of Seattle and it was great to see that they wanted me to stay. That really meant a lot to me."
Kaufman also experienced playing in the Rose Bowl as a true freshman in 1991 The Huskies beat Michigan 34-14, earning them a share of the National Championship. While most freshmen would be overwhelmed by such an experience so early in their college career, Kaufman treated it just like any other game.
"It wasn't overwhelming for me at all, but I think that is because I had come right off of a state championship in high school," Kaufman says. "I don't think that I appreciated it as much as I should have because of the fact that I was a freshman and I had just won a state championship in high school. I think that I kind of took it for granted."
When Kaufman's Husky career ended at the end of the 1994 season, he went on to be drafted by the Oakland Raiders to play in the NFL. As the 18th overall pick in the draft, Kaufman's career started slow, but would pick up over time as he slowly pushed his way into the starting role for the team. His career best numbers would come in the 1997 season, when Kaufman ran for a total of 1,294 yards and six touchdowns with 403 yards and two touchdowns receiving. He also had his career best game that year against the Denver Broncos, rushing for a total of 227 yards and one touchdown.
After six years in the NFL, Napoleon Kaufman decided to retire from the NFL at the young age of 27 to further pursue religious ministry. "The decision was based on the call of God. I had given my life to God in my second year in the NFL and my relationship was growing with the Lord Jesus Christ," says Kaufman. "I started to recognize that he had a call in my life to preach the gospel. Once I felt that the call was starting to catch up to me, I had a decision to make. I decided to respond to the call and it was just a matter of my yielding to what I thought the Lord had designed for me."
Now a minister with the Crucified with Christ Ministries, Kaufman has organized a charitable organization called the Napoleon Kaufman Foundation.
"When I first had given my life to Christ and we were designing how I was going to give back to the community, we started the Napoleon Kaufman Foundation," says Kaufman. "We started to put together some youth homes and to do some other youth projects. As the ministry started to grow and I started to travel a lot more, I still had this vision in place, but it is going to take a little bit of time for us to implement the whole vision. It is just our desire to give back and it really reaches out to kids in a good way."
Besides Smith, former swim coach Earl Ellis, football players Napoleon Kaufman, Jeff Jaeger and Lincoln Kennedy, plus the 1970 and 1971 Men's Crew teams will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Former athletic administrator, Don Smith, will receive the Don H. Palmer Award. For more information on buying tickets to the Husky Hall of Fame celebration, click here or call the Big `W' Club at 206-543-3013.