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Local Legends: Warren Moon and James Lofton

Warren Moon (top photo) was an All City quarterback at Hamilton High School in 1974, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame NFL career.   James Lofton was a star player at Washington High School before having a record setting Hall of Fame career in the NFL as a wide receiver.  Here he poses with Washington Prep’s Athletic Director Kim Bly, who appreciated Lofton coming back and offering words of wisdom to the student body.  Photos by Jason Lewis

Originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net

By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)

Two of the greatest football players to come out of Los Angeles were recently honored by The Pro Football Hall of Fame, in partnership with Allstate Insurance Company, as being Hometown Hall of Famers. 

The honorees were Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who graduated from Hamilton High School in 1974, and Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton, who graduated from Washington High School, also in 1974.  Moon played quarterback in high school, while Lofton played quarterback and safety.  Both players were honored at the high schools that they graduated from, and they both gave inspiring speeches to the students on hand. 

Lofton went on to play college football at Stanford University, and he also won the long jump at the 1978 NCAA Track and Field Championships.  He switched from quarterback to wide receiver, and he was named to the All-American team in 1977

After college Lofton was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, and he went on to have a 16-year career where he was named to eight Pro Bowls and he was voted to the AP All Pro team six times.  He is a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. 

For a career Lofton caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards and 75 touchdowns, and he averaged 20 yards or more per catch in five seasons.  He was the first NFL player to reach the 14,000-yard mark.

Moon decided to stay at quarterback after high school, which meant that he had to take a drastically different route than Lofton.  After being named to the All-City team as a quarterback in high school, he was recruited by a number of colleges, but at the time black high school quarterbacks were typically moved to another skill position, such as wide receiver or defensive back.  Black players were not thought to be intelligent enough to play quarterback.  

The colleges that were recruiting Moon wanted to convert him to another position, but he held his ground and decided to continue his football career at quarterback.  Because of that all of the colleges that were recruiting him backed off. 

The road for Moon did not stream line from high school, to Division I college football, to the NFL.  He was always side tracked because he was a black athlete playing quarterback. 

Moon played at West Los Angeles College in 1974, where he set the school’s passing records.  Because he showed that he could play quarterback at the college level, a few big time colleges came back around to him.  The University of Washington signed him, and he made it clear that he was not changing positions. 

Moon won the starting job at Washington, and he led them to the 1978 Rose Bowl victory over favored Michigan, and he was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. 

Not surprisingly Moon’s college accomplishments did not lead him to the NFL, like it would for any white quarterback at the time with a similar, or even lesser resume.  He went undrafted in the 1978 NFL Draft, and he would end up signing with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. 

While in Edmonton, Moon lit the field up with his passing abilities, as he led the Eskimos to five consecutive championships, and he was the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 1980 and 1982. 

After proving himself on several different levels, Moon decided to give the NFL another try in 1984, and this time several teams wanted his services.  Moon landed with the Houston Oilers, and after 17 seasons in the NFL he was named to nine Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams, he was the NEA NFL MVP in 1990, and he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

It has been said numerous times that if Moon had been drafted into the NFL right out of college, that he would have finished his NFL career holding all of the major passing records. 

For both Moon and Lofton, their foundation for greatness was set up here in Los Angeles while playing youth and high school sports, as well as growing up in black Los Angeles. 

“When you kind of look back on your life years later, you have a different perspective,” Lofton said.  “But as a kid growing up here, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.  That’s because there were teachers, coaches, and administrators, they were like an extended family once you came to campus.  Those were the people who were looking out for you.   So I never felt like I was dealt a short hand or that I had so much extra to overcome because there was so many people who were in my corner.”

While Lofton attended a predominantly black school, Moon was exposed to students of different ethnic backgrounds while at Hamilton.

“Well it just kind of shaped my whole personality,” Moon said.  “You go through that stage when you’re 15 to about 18, you do a lot of growing during that time.  When I came to Hamilton it was so ethnically diverse.  You had white kids, Jewish kids, black kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids.  I got a chance to meet a lot of different ethnic groups.  That helped me be able to go into college and cope and learn.  I came from the mid-city area, where there was not a lot of diversity, but coming here to high school and dealing with that for three years helped me deal with all kinds of different people.”

The support that both Moon and Lofton received from their high school football coaches played a major role in their lives. 

“I think my work ethic was established here,” Moon said.  “As far as what it was going to take to be successful at the next level.  My coaches instilled in me that if I was going to be good at the next level I had to outwork everybody.  That’s what I did.  Whether it was the time that I put in at practice or the extra time after that I put in.”

Lofton shared a similar sentiment. 

“I really believe that the coaches that I had here, and they have become lifelong friends, just the fact that they cared so much about me, and maybe not so much as an athlete but as a person, you know, made sure that I got home after practice because the buses would stop running late,” Lofton said.  “So I would catch a ride home with one of the coaches that lived five or six blocks away from me.  They just always had a role in my life, and I think that was the biggest factor.”

The Hometown Hall of Famer events were meant to inspire the high school students to reach for their dreams, and to work hard to obtain them.  Lofton was able to give the students, and especially the athletes, some great advice. 

“They have to be students first,” Lofton said.  “They have to think more long term than short term because everybody who plays becomes an ex-player.  People always talk about, well, you’re playing sports, then you have something to fall back on.  That’s actually backwards.  Your academics are first, and then your athletics are something that you might be able to fall back on.  If you focus on your academics, there are so many colleges out there who are looking for that student athlete to fill a roster spot.  So that is what students need to focus on.”

Lofton’s speech was greatly appreciated by the administrators at Washing Prep High School.

“Today’s event was extra special,” Kim Bly, Washington Prep Athletic Director, said.  “To have a hometown hero like James Lofton, who was instrumental in setting the athletic foundation at Washington Prep.  I’m proud now as the current athletic director, to have him come back and give words of wisdom to our young athletes.

“I think it is important because now they can see someone visually that they can aspire to be like.  When you put somebody in front of you like that, it becomes more real.  I hope this is a motivation to them to understand that you do not use your environment or your circle to dictate your outcome.” 

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