Western Washington University has had its share of rich sports memories, championships and professional athletes including 10 NFL, two MLB and six MiLB alumni. The following are some of the most successful men’s professional athletes to come out of Western.
The criteria for this list include a combination of years spent in the athlete's respective league, accolades and statistics. While some of these athletes had remarkable careers at Western, as well as in their respective leagues, that’s not a requirement to make this list. All that’s required is the athlete must’ve attended Western at some point and spent time in a professional league.
Bill Wright (PGA)
Bill Wright attended Western from 1959 to 1960 and is a member of the African American Golf Hall of Fame. Arguably his most notable career accomplishment was in 1959 when he became the first Black golfer to win a United States Golf Association tournament.
Wright participated in the 1966 U.S. Open, becoming one of the earliest Black golfers to participate in the PGA. He also played in five U.S. senior opens. His legacy is felt throughout Western’s golf program, and he’s one of the highest-regarded athletes to attend the school. Unfortunately, Wright's PGA career was cut short due to financial constraints, according to Western’s Athletics Historian Paul Madison.
“Bill Wright was an iconic representative of Western Washington University, not only from an athletics perspective but as a wonderful human being,” said long-time Athletic Director Steve Card at his memorial service in 2021. “He impacted the world by breaking the color barrier in American golf, but beyond that, [he] was a wonderful person that touched a lot of people in many ways.”
The four most successful professional athletes:
Forrest “Woody” Jensen (MLB, 1931-39)
A baseball player with a fitting old-school, ballplayer nickname, Forrest “Woody” Jensen spent nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the National League’s pre-integration era from 1931 to 1939.
He was a career .285 hitter and played three full seasons in left field for the “Bucs,” from 1934 to 1936. He played alongside two hall-of-famers in Pittsburgh’s outfield with the Waner brothers patrolling center and right field while Jensen was in left. In 1935, Jensen batted .324 and in 1936 led the National League in plate appearances and at-bats.
The MLB contemporaries of his time included sluggers like Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson.
Given how long ago he played, the records of Jensen at Western are hard to come by, and he never actually played for Western’s baseball team. That said, records do show the Bremerton, Washington local took classes at Western in 1927.
Roger Repoz (MLB, 1964-72)
Coincidentally, Roger Repoz attended Western at the same time as Bill Wright from 1959 to 1960. Unlike Jensen, Repoz did play for Western’s baseball team and was a force at the plate for the Vikings. In 1959, he captured the NAIA tournament MVP award while helping lead the Vikings to the quarterfinals.
After his time at Western, Repoz signed with the Yankees just as they were nearing the end of their dynasty. He spent three seasons with the “Bronx Bombers,” playing alongside Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.
Western athletics historian Paul Madison grew up in the Bellingham area as a Yankee fan and recalled the excitement surrounding Repoz.
“I remember people and the media touting him as the next Mickey Mantle,” Madison said. “It was really exciting to see this guy from Bellingham playing for the New York Yankees.”
While Repoz didn’t turn out to be the next Mickey Mantle, he turned in a respectable career and later spent six seasons with the California Angels. During the low-run scoring environment of his time, Repoz put together a career OPS+ of 108, making him 8% better than his average contemporary hitter.
Matt Overton (NFL, 2012-22)
After graduating from Western, Matt Overton spent five years in semi pro-football and earned a training camp invitation from the Seahawks, first in 2007 and later in 2010. He failed both times but kept pursuing his NFL dream anyway.
“With Steinauer, Koenen and Overton, those types of people all seem to have a will that’s wired differently from most people,” Madison said. “It’s something that’s hard to explain that 95% of people don’t have.”
While he failed to make the team, Overton’s persistence finally paid off in 2012 when he made the Indianapolis Colts roster. He spent the next five seasons as the Colts’ long-snapper and in 2013, he became the first and only pro bowler in Western history. He continued in the NFL until retiring after a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys in 2022.
Overton spent two years in Civic Stadium as Western’s long-snapper from 2005-06, playing under special teams coach Terry Todd. “We didn’t need to worry about the special teams unit much during those years,” he said.
Michael Koenen (NFL, 2005-14)
Another reason Todd didn’t have much to worry about during those years was the exceptional punting and kicking skills of Michael Koenen.
“I’ll tell you how good he was,” Todd said. “He kicked an extra point out of Civic Field, through the uprights over the fence, over the field, and [it] hit a car on the road out there.”
During his four seasons at Western from 2001-04, Koenen won numerous accolades and broke almost every kicking record in the program’s 100-year-plus history.
He also has a statue in front of the Superdome in New Orleans that depicts fellow Washington local Steve Gleason blocking his punt in the Saints’ first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Koenen enjoyed a successful 10-year NFL career spent with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He lives in the Bellingham area today, operating Locker Room Fitness in Ferndale, Washington alongside Jake Locker.
Joe Kramer (he/him) is a sports reporter for The Front. He is an aspiring sportswriter majoring in journalism. Outside of journalism, he enjoys baseball and spending time with his family, especially the dogs.