When Whitworth junior Wayne Ralph was catching passes from senior quarterback Cliff Madison at an indoor-football-rate back in 1985, the magnitude of his accomplishments didn’t register.
“I really didn’t think about it,” he said of his All-American season of 101 catches for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns for the 3-6 Pirates. “I just wanted to win.”
DéjÀ vu for his senior season seemed unlikely with a new quarterback, Idaho transfer Blaine Bennett.
“We just worked all that summer,” Ralph recalled. “He told me I was going to catch more balls. I thought, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ”
Then he went out and broke his NAIA records for passes caught in a season with 105 and receptions per game of 11.7, plus his school record for yards with 1,204. It all started with a school-record 20 catches for 219 yards in the season opener.
Those numbers are why Ralph is being inducted into the Whitworth Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“When Scott (McQuilkin, athletic director) called, I was honored,” Ralph said. “It’s a privilege. … It wasn’t just me, it was the whole team. The camaraderie we had there, it was very special.”
Ralph has continued to do special things since leaving Whitworth.
First he joined the Army after a tryout with the Edmonton Eskimos didn’t pan out.
“I always wanted to serve my country,” he said. “I was a medic. During Desert Storm, I was on the front line with 24th Infantry Division.”
His football experience served him well.
“You’re a team; you’re working for a common goal,” he said. “You become real close with your soldiers. Basically, football taught me about work ethic. Growing up my dad would always tell me – and it’s what I tell my kids – don’t let anyone outwork you. I wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but don’t let anyone outwork you.”
Ralph, 5-foot-11, was about 185 pounds when in fighting trim, but admitted, “I’m not in that shape any more.”
Texas appealed to the Moses Lake native while stationed near San Antonio and he decided to stay as he pursued a career in teaching after almost a decade in the service. These days he’s head football coach at a middle school in Kingwood, Texas, a suburb of Houston, as well as the athletic coordinator and track and basketball coach.
“This is where I want to be right now,” he said. “My younger son will be going here. When he goes up, I’ll move back up and coach high school again. It’s hard when you’re in high school, especially in Texas, they want you there seven days. My kids are in sports. I don’t want to miss out on what they have going on. I want to be there for them.”
Just like he’s there for his athletes.
“I’d really like to stay in (public) school,” Ralph said. “I like grooming kids, especially in middle school. You set an impression on those kids. This is their vulnerable years. Hopefully, I can give them good advice; steer them right.”
He took one stab at getting closer to home as an assistant coach in Hermiston, Ore., when the Bulldogs went to the state quarterfinals a couple years ago, but the ties to Texas – his wife is a native – were too strong.
Ralph and his second wife have a son and daughter in grade school and he has a son and daughter from his first marriage attending Texas State University.
Many ties to Washington remain. His parents still live in Moses Lake and his siblings are still in the state. That includes his brother Scott, a year younger and a four-year starter at cornerback for Whitworth.
“I just remember the small-college atmosphere,” Ralph said. “Everybody knew everyone. It was just a community there. It’s a special place to go to school. I was very fortunate to attend Whitworth. It wasn’t the big Washington State or U-Dub. Everyone on our team had a sense of pride and worked hard. It was a fun group to be around.”