Sweet Homecoming for Washington

JACKSONVILLE - Oh, what a sweet homecoming it was for Florida State running back Leon Washington. In front of friends and family, the Jacksonville native rushed for a career-high 195 yards, and one touchdown on 12 carries. He broke records, burned defenders, and earned the honor of Gator Bowl Most Valuable Player. But was it a sign of things to come next season for the Seminoles, or just the push Washington needed to turn a few heads in the NFL?


I was telling one of my friends that I would have to rush for 200 yards to even think about that, and look what happened" said Washington of considering a jump to professional football.

Washington added there's about an 80 percent chance he'll return for his senior year, which is what he would prefer. It all depends on what news he receives from the NFL draft advisory board in the next few weeks, and whether his stock rose high enough after his bowl performance to place in him the first two rounds.

"I went up to him and said great game, but you better come back or I will hunt you down," David Castillo said.

"He told me he was coming back so I hope he sticks to his word. He's got my vote for captain next year. He's a tremendous player, a great team player, a great motivator and he's everything you want in a teammate."

Washington set a school record Saturday with 16.3 yards per carry, and a new Gator Bowl landmark when, on the Seminoles second play of the game, he exploded through a gaping hole for a 69-yard run, the longest rushing touchdown in the bowl's 60-year history.

Washington hit again in the second quarter for 47 yards, Florida State's second longest play of the afternoon. It set up the field goal that put the Seminoles ahead for good.

The offensive spark Washington provided early in the game was one that Florida State had missed in recent weeks, enough so that coach Bobby Bowden felt compelled to pull aside some of his players while they were preparing for the bowl.

"Coach Bowden told me after the Florida game we are going to your hometown, and it would be good for you to set up a good campaign for the your senior year," Washington said.

The speech struck a chord with Washington, whose promising year had been hindered by an injury in the latter half of the season.

The separated shoulder he suffered against Wake Forest, Oct. 23, kept him from lifting his arm for a week, and off the field for another. Even when he returned to the backfield at NC State, he was still playing with pain.

"He was hurt against Florida and NC State, and he didn't play against Maryland," running backs coach Billy Sexton said. "He was healthy today, what a difference it makes."

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