Leon the Legend
My first contact with Washington was when I worked for another Network just a few days after the Florida State football camp in July of 2001. When you call recruits, you never know what your going to get. Some kids are great and some don't want to be bothered. I was very excited after talking with Leon for the first time. He was so engaging and full of excitement. He always had the time for me. I was saying to myself that this was going to be one of the kids that I was going to root for even if he ended up a Gator. I thought for sure that the 5-foot-9 and 200 pounder was destined to wear Blue & Orange. I understand how well the Gators use to do with kid from the Jacksonville area plus Leon was a big Lito Shepherd fan.
After talking with Leon over the course of the year, I started to see a trend that Leon wasn't sold on be a Gators which kind of surprised me. According to him, the Gators were more focused on his high school rival Ciatrick Fason, who he beat out for the Mr. Football award as a senior. I knew Leon was the real deal when he lead his team over a big-win over Fason and his Fletcher teammates. In that game he ran for a bunch a yards and helped shut down Fason.
Washington went on an unofficial visit to Florida State-Miami game where he hit it off with Coach Bobby Bowden. He told me that Coach Bowden told him that the Seminoles didn't want him but rather needed him. The whole FSU coaches did an excellent job of making him feel welcome unlike his childhood favorite Florida. It also didn't hurt that his best friend was a student with Florida State at the time.
Later in the 2001 season, the Gators got hammered by an opponent pretty badly (I can't remember who). Washington asked me if I saw that game. When I said no, he proceeded to tell me that Florida sucks! I did everything I could do to keep from laughing out loud on the phone. I knew right then that the Seminoles were probably in the driver's seat.
I always had trouble understanding what Leon was saying on the phone because he spoke so fast. I could normally catch about every other word. I use to get a kick out of him when he got other calls. Every time we talked he had to switch over to take an incoming call. I would sometimes be on hold for five minutes at a time. When he clicked over back to me, he finished he thoughts immediately without hesitation. I was amazed by his memory. And for the record, it was normally female's that he was clicking over for.
Leon has never been given the respect that he deserves. According to several insider's, he was probably Florida State best offense weapon during his sophomore and junior season's. The lack of respect started a long time ago even though he was known by locals as a Pop Warner Legend. Probably, the lack of respect had to due mainly with his smaller size.
As a freshman in high school , he played at University Christian but didn't see the field much mainly due to injuries. As a sophomore he transferred to Jackson high school but he didn't try out for the football team because he was too busy working off his private school tuition's debt.
In his junior season, he was trying to convince Jackson head coach Kevin Sullivan for a chance to play on the team. However, Sullivan laughed when he heard of Washington's Pop Warner's Legend legacy. After making a couple nice moves in front of Sullivan in the Gym, the rest is history. Washington started his career out at Jackson by boggling a punt and returning it 98-yard as a score. He ended his high school career as a senior by rushing for2,237 yards and 28 touchdowns. As a defensive back, he led his team with 88 tackles, nine for a loss. As a returner, he brought back four kicks for touchdowns. Jackson finished the regular season undefeated.
Florida State Memories
In the fall of 2002, there was talk of making Washington a cornerback because of the signing of Lorenzo Booker. However, Leon started the season out as a running back and member of several special team units, including kick-returned and gunner on punt team.
Washington did it all as a freshman. On Thursday night football against Clemson, he returned a kick-off for a much needed touchdown. He made tackles on the punt return team. He fell on a muffed punt in the end-zone against Duke for a score. He saved his best for last as a freshman, by killing his childhood favorite Florida in Doak Campbell stadium. Washington, make his second career start at tailback in place of the injured Nick Maddox. He finished the game with 134 rushing yards on 26 carries in the Seminoles' 31-14 victory over the Gators. As a junior Washington had one of the best bowl games that I've seen from a Seminole running back ever by rushing for 195 yards rushing on only 12 carries. He also single-handily was responsible for beating Syracuse in 2004 by rushing for two long touchdown runs. I could go on and on about the memories.
I know one thing for sure, I will always remember this quote from a Seminole football coach.
"I wish we had 22 starters like him.".
Despite not getting a ton of carries last season, I feel he'll be a steal for some lucky team in Saturday's draft. Washington is projected to be selected anywhere between the 2nd and 4th round of Saturday's NFL draft.
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