Kenny’s athletic exploits in high school lead to an athletic scholarship from U.C.L.A. where he distinguished himself as one of the greatest college football players of his era. In his senior season playing alongside teammates Jackie Robinson and Woody Strode, Kenny Washington was the halfback in the team’s single-wing offense where he ran the offense and was responsible for both running and passing. Kenny also led the nation in total offense with 3,206 yards (1,300 yards passing and 1,915 yards rushing). Yet maybe more amazingly, he played both offense and defense for the Bruins and only missed a total of 20 minutes for the entire season!
Kenny’s legendary performances as a Bruin were recognized with his selection to the All-American Football Team in 1939 as a senior. He was also honored that year with the Douglas Fairbanks Jr Award – a predecessor to the Heisman Trophy – given annually to the nation’s top football player. Liberty Magazine named him the Back of the Year and the Helms Foundation named him Athlete of the Year for all of Southern California.
While he was simply an amazing football player, Kenny was an equally talented baseball player and the first African-American to play baseball at UCLA hitting .454 in 1937.
Kenny was selected to play in the 1940 College All-Star Game with college football’s best pitted against the N.F.L. Champion Green Bay Packers in Chicago. In the game played on August 29, 1940 before 84,567 fans in the stadium, Kenny scored a rushing touchdown against the Packers defense. After the game he was persuaded by George Halas to stay in Chicago while Halas tried to convince the other N.F.L. franchise owners to lift the ban on signing African-American collegians. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
He was the very first Bruin inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956 and also the first to have his UCLA uniform number (#13) retired.
Every year in his honor, the U.C.L.A. Bruin Offensive Player of the Year is bestowed the Kenny Washington Award.