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Junior Coffey bulled his way to a team-high six rushing touchdowns and earned honorable mention All-America and first team All-Conference honors in 1963.
Junior Coffey Among '63 Team Honored Saturday
Release: 09/20/2013
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Junior Coffey and the 1963 team will be honored as the Huskies Legends on Saturday.

By Jocelyn Perry
GoHuskies.com

For many Husky fans, it is hard to imagine that 1963 was half a century ago. In those 50 years, the landscape of college football has dramatically changed. From a stuff-it-down-your-throat running game, to an aerial attack passing game, offensive possessions and defensive schemes are very different. But for 1965 graduate and fullback Junior Coffey, more than the game has changed.

Junior Coffey grew up in the 1950’s in Dimmitt, Texas. He divided his time working on a sharecropped farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse for black children. School was offered through the eighth grade, and after graduation black adults were expected to work on the farm full time or enlist in the armed forces. But Coffey had a little bit of luck on his side.

Dimmitt, a town stuck between Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, had a population of about 4,000. Just like many West Texas towns, it valued Friday night high school football and Sunday morning church. But in 1957, Dimmitt High School would integrate.

The freshman class that year was extremely close-knit. The handful of students had been together since the first grade, and had teachers each year who expected learning and growth. The students were competitive in the classroom, and always wanted to outscore each other on tests. When their freshman year rolled around, the students were surveyed about integration. They had little hesitation.

That autumn, Coffey integrated into Dimmitt High. The students welcomed Coffey, and he soon made a life-long friend.

“One day I was watching some kids play pickup basketball, and a kid named Kent Hance asked me if I wanted to play,” said Coffey. “We’ve been best friends ever since. We roomed together when we played football, and now he is the Chancellor at Texas Tech University.”

Even though he had never played organized sports, the high school coach asked Coffey to play basketball, football and track.

“I didn’t know how to put on pads correctly,” remembered Coffey. “I put the left thigh pad on the right leg, I was so embarrassed.”

Despite never playing organized ball, Coffey unknowingly spent his summers training for sports.

“I would buck hay all day after school and in the summers,” said Coffey, laughing. “I had to buck 150 pounds all day long. And now I get to carry a ball and run over people? It was too easy!”

He started on the football B team playing defensive tackle, and after picking up a fumble for a touchdown, his coach decided Coffey needed to switch to the other side of the ball.

Coffey played a few downs at the tight end position, but with his size found his way as a fullback.

“I had to stay after school to practice handoffs and techniques,” said Coffey. “I would hold the ball like a loaf of bread and not protect it. But in my freshman year I went from not playing football to starting on the varsity team. I learned a lot, and fast.”

He not only excelled on the gridiron, but on the hardwood as well. Dimmitt High made the State Championships two years in a row. Coffey’s time working on the farm helped him with other sports too.

Coffey’s dream was to play football in the Southwest Conference. But unlike Dimmitt, the conference wasn’t integrated, and wouldn’t be for years.

“I could have gone to some great historically black colleges, like Grambling or Southern, but I didn’t want to,” Coffey thought back. “One of my coaches told me I had a good chance to play on the west coast or schools like Nebraska and Kansas. I called my family after I visited Washington and told them this is where we are going to live.”

Coffey had ailing foot problems during his collegiate career, and especially his junior year. In 1963, the Huskies started the season 0-3.

“Our coach and our team had different philosophies on how to win,” said Coffey. “The philosophy was to put the better players on defense, so if the other team can’t score, then we might be able to win. But the problem was we weren’t scoring either. So everyone needed to mature. I learned how to read tackles better and run off tackles. Everyone started feeling more positive and the wins started coming.”

The 1963 Rose Bowl against Illinois would become known as the game of what could have been. Quarterback Bill Douglas was sidelined with a knee injury and Coffey had to sit out with a broken foot.

“I got hurt on the first drive of the Rose Bowl,” remembered Douglas. “It was pretty disappointing not to finish the game.”

Illinois, with Dick Butkus on the line, beat UW 17-7.

Despite limited playing time because of injuries, Coffey finished his career at Washington as a three-time All-Coast selection, and a three-time Honorable Mention All-American. Coffey played in the NFL with the Falcons, Giants and was on the 1965 Packer Championship team.

“That Packers team will always be special to me,” said Coffey. “The team was stacked with future Hall of Fame players and I still made the cut. Green Bay had a similar coaching system to UW and I could play on special teams.”

After his 15 year football career came to an end, Coffey returned to the Pacific Northwest. He started in the auto business for a few years, and started watching the thoroughbred races in his spare time.

Coffey noticed the same characteristics in racing horses that he saw in football players.

“I thought that I should train horses like I would a football player,” thought Coffey. “I knew conditioning from football, and saw that each horse needed to be developed differently.”

Junior Coffey has been racing horses for over 30 years, most recently at Emerald Downs in Auburn, Wash. Coffey and his wife Kathy have been together for almost 50 years.

“Even though we have been married for a long time, I used to never see Junior,” said Kathy Coffey. “I decided if I wanted to see him, I’d have to work with him!”

This story appears in the Huskies Gameday program. To read more Huskies Flashbacks, go to page 16-20 of the program.

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