Big Performer

Injured or not, <b>Leon Washington</b> has a reputation to uphold. Florida State's top tailback has had his biggest performances against the Gators and says he won't let a sore shoulder slow him down in Saturday's showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 31-31 tie, a game in which FSU tied an NCAA record with a 28-point fourth quarter comeback.

"Records, aches and pains, all that kind of stuff takes a back seat this time of year," Leon Washington said.

"We all have to be ready to go." Washington, a junior from Jacksonville, burst on the scene as a true freshman against the Florida Gators in 2002 and rushed for 134 yards on 26 carries in place of injured backs Greg Jones and Nick Maddox.

He was at again during last season's 38-34 win. Washington rushed for 65 yards and returned three kickoffs for 134 yards, including a 77-yarder that set up a first-half touchdown pass.

Because of those exploits, his Florida State teammates call Washington "Gator-killer".

Truth is, Washington has been killing about everyone this season. Before separating his shoulder Oct. 23 at Wake Forest, Washington boasted the ACC's top per carry average and was the conference's leading rusher.

He and backup Lorenzo Booker have also held together an offense that has suffered from inconsistent quarterback play and manages just 26 points a contest, FSU's worst since 1986.

"I've been so pleased with him running the football," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.

"You might as well admit it, the strongest part of our team is running the dog done ball. We are crazy when we don't."

After missing games against Maryland and Duke, Washington returned to the lineup in last Thursday's 17-10 win at N.C. State.

Though his numbers (18-56) don't indicate it, his performance was instrumental in helping FSU orchestrate another road escape.

In visible pain, Washington was called upon to pound the ball in each fourth-quarter drive as the Seminoles wore the clock down in a physical game.

"I was actually supposed to get the last series but Leon stepped up and said, ‘let me get this'," Booker said.

"Leon's one of the toughest guys on the team. Every time he got up he was in pain."

"I love games like that where everyone is trying to bring it in and hit you with their best shot," Washington said.

The pain, he says, should subside around 7:45 on Saturday when the Seminoles kick it off against the visiting Gators on ESPN.

The junior has even begged for a chance to return kickoffs though he has just three attempts on the season.

However, he has no chance of petitioning for punt return at-bats with Willie Reid (31 attempts for 449 yards) firmly entrenched in that spot and just short of Deion Sanders' school record (503 yards).

"I've been doing pretty good returning kicks against these guys," he said. "Maybe I'll be back there."

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