1939 NCAA Rushing Leaders

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UCLA Bruins left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) hauls the pigskin against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, the defending national champions, during the NCAA season-opener for both schools at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 29th, 1939. The homegrown senior out of Abraham Lincoln High School in the City of Angels ended up carrying the football from scrimmage 168 times for UCLA that season while finishing as the nation’s third-leading rusher. An unmistakable indication of exactly how vital the consensus All-America really was to UCLA’s offensive production that fall, Washington’s single-season mark for rushing attempts would not be bettered by another UCLA Bruins player for another 36 years.
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1939 NCAA Rushing Leaders
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882 yards ….. 6.4 avg ……. John Polanski, Wake Forest
868 yards ….. 6.7 avg ……. Tom Harmon, Michigan
811 yards ….. 4.8 avg ……. KENNY WASHINGTON, UCLA
784 yards ….. unk avg …… Red Mayberry, Wake Forest
742 yards ….. 4.8 avg ……. Grenville Lansdell, USC *
733 yards ….. 5.5 avg ……. Hal van Every, Minnesota
720 yards ….. unk avg …… Johnny Knolla, Creighton
627 yards ….. 3.7 avg ……. John Kimbrough, Texas A&M *
622 yards ….. unk avg …… Tony Gallovich, Wake Forest
621 yards ….. 6.9 avg ……. Jack Crain, Texas
596 yards ….. 6.2 avg ……. George McAfee, Duke

514 yards … 12.2 avg ……. JACKIE ROBINSON, UCLA

* Notes — Season totals includes statistics from bowl games played on January 1st, 1940. The Texas A&M fullback Kimbrough rocketed into eighth place on the final NCAA chart by piling up 152 yards on 26 carries (5.8 avg) as # 1 ranked Aggies edged the # 5 ranked Tulane Green Wave 14-13 in the Sugar Bowl affair. The USC quarterback Lansdell moved up two places after rushing for 68 yards on 18 totes (3.8 avg) as the # 3 ranked Trojans, who finished with a near perfect 8-0-2 record, thoroughly shut down the # 2 ranked Tennessee Volunteers in the highly anticipated Rose Bowl contest.

It is true that Wake Forest placed three ball-carriers inside the Top Ten on the NCAA’s final rushing chart for the 1939 NCAA season but it should be noted that the Demon Deacons (7-3-0 overall record) only won half of their league games while clearly padding their statistics in blowout wins over Elon College (34-0) and McDaniel College (66-0), not to mention Southern Conference weakling Davidson (46-7).

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Michigan Wolverines superstar TOM HARMON (# 98), the junior left halfback who went on to win the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1940 before being the first overall player chosen (by the Chicago Bears) at the 1941 National Football League Draft, was the only ball carrier in the entire country to average more than 100 net yards rushing per game over the length of the entire 1939 NCAA campaign. Wake Forest Demon Deacons fullback JOHN POLANSKI (# 22), the sophomore out of Buffalo, New York, who became the first player in school history to score four touchdowns in a single varsity game, was later selected by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1942 NFL Draft. Polanski, who appeared for the Los Angeles Dons of the old All-America Football Conference following the conclusion of World War II, was teammates of former UCLA quarterback Ned Matthews during his only NFL season with Detroit in 1942 while Harmon’s son, Mark, later became a wishbone quarterback for the UCLA Bruins in the early 1970s … After the Second World War ended, Tom Harmon played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and was teammates for two seasons with the a pair of one-time standouts for the UCLA Bruins, left halfback Kenny Washington and left end Woody Strode.
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1939 UCLA BRUINS : KENNY WASHINGTON Rushing Stats, Game By Game
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Texas Christian Horned Frogs ……….. 7 att ….. 38 yrd ….. 5.43 avg
Washington Huskies ……………………. 25 att … 142 yrd ….. 5.68 avg
Stanford Indians …………………………. 20 att ….. 25 yrd ….. 1.25 avg
Montana Grizzlies ………………………… 11 att … 164 yrd … 14.90 avg
Oregon Ducks ……………………………….. 4 att ….. 23 yrd ….. 5.75 avg
California Golden Bears ……………….. 22 att … 141 yrd ….. 6.41 avg
Santa Clara Broncos …………………….. 21 att ….. 63 yrd ….. 3.00 avg
Oregon State Beavers …………………… 20 att ….. 97 yrd ….. 4.85 avg
Washington State Cougars ……………. 20 att ….. 78 yrd ….. 3.90 avg
Southern Cal Trojans ……………………. 18 att ….. 40 yrd ….. 2.22 avg

Notes — With repect to the statistics presented above, the final eight games originally derive from the “California Daily Bruin”. Kenny Washington’s rushing totals against the University of Washington come from various contemporary newspaper reports and are validated by the official UCLA Bruins media guides issued over the years. The Kingfish’s statistics for the game against Texas Christian University came down to mathematics (using the NCAA’s official final numbers for the 1939 season).

1939 UCLA BRUINS : JACKIE ROBINSON Rushing Stats, Game By Game
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Texas Christian Horned Frogs ……….. 6 att ….. 55 yrd ….. 9.17 avg
Washington Huskies ……………………… 6 att ….. 45 yrd ….. 7.50 avg
Stanford Indians …………………………… 4 att ….. 62 yrd … 15.50 avg
Montana Grizzlies …………………………. 0 att ……. 0 yrd ….. 0.00 avg
Oregon Ducks ……………………………….. 5 att ….. 89 yrd … 17.80 avg
California Golden Bears ………………………….. did not play
Santa Clara Broncos ……………………………….. did not play
Oregon State Beavers …………………….. 7 att ….. 92 yrd … 13.14 avg
Washington State Cougars ……………. 10 att … 148 yrd … 14.80 avg
Southern Cal Trojans ……………………… 4 att ….. 23 yrd ….. 5.75 avg

Notes — With respect to the statistics shown above, the final eight games originally derive from the “California Daily Bruin”. Using the NCAA’s final numbers for the 1939 season (which are validated by the various official UCLA media guides issued over the years) and mathematics, one can easily determine that Jackie Robinson totaled an even hundred yards on twelve carries in the Bruins’ first two games against Texas Christian University and the University of Washington. Robinson’s per game split presented above fits with the following two contemporary newspaper quotations :

“Robinson – sensation of the Coast in last week’s game, carrying reverses for 9.35 yardage per try (against Texas Christian)” … California Daily Bruin – October 6th, 1939

“Robinson averaged 7.5 per play and (Kenny) Washington 5.68 as the Uclans traveled a net 259 yards from passes and scrimmage (against the University of Washington)” … Ellensburg Daily Record – October 9th, 139

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