Leon Washington is a former 5-star recruit out of Jacksonville who committed to the ’Noles in 2002 as, according to Rivals at the time, the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the country. He of course switched to running back, and as a freshman he backed up the indomitable Greg Jones. Jones got the majority of the carries, but it’s fitting that Washington really got his start that year as a special teams contributor. He returned 42 kicks that year for over 600 yards, including a 97-yard kickoff return against Clemson. Sadly, Jones would suffer a serious knee injury in November that year, and while he didn’t start in Jones’ place - that went to senior Nick Maddox - Washington’s rushing carries rose significantly. He saved his biggest game for Florida, where he ran 26 times for 134 yards and a touchdown and led FSU to a 31-14 beatdown. In all, Washington racked up 937 all-purpose yards as a true freshman.
He started his 2003 sophomore season off with a bang against the North Carolina Tarheels in the season opener. A quick eleven-yard reception on FSU’s first drive and a 27-yard rush on the Seminoles’ second drive had FSU in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, Washington dislocated his elbow and wouldn’t play again until five weeks later against Miami. Against Wake Forest two weeks after that he had a game to remember, returning seven punts for 159 yards, including an electric 65-yard return for a touchdown. It was FSU’s first punt return since Peter Warrick returned one against Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
In November the ’Noles would clinch another ACC Atlantic title as Washington sealed it with a twelve-yard rushing touchdown in double overtime of a 50-44 win against NC State head coach Chuck Amato and quarterback Philip Rivers. Washington had 121 yards on just 17 carries. He finished that season with 387 yards rushing at an excellent 5.2 yard per rush clip and 863 total all-purpose yards.
As his role in the offense increased following Jones’ departure to the NFL Washington’s contributions on special teams declined. He had his best season in 2004, rushing for 949 yards and seven touchdowns at a whopping 6.9 yards per rush, good for second nationally. That includes a 153-yard rushing performance against North Carolina followed by a 164-yard rumble against Syracuse the very next week. He finished that season off with an incredible 12-carry 193-yard one-man January 1st show against West Virginia as quarterback Chris Rix turned the ball over five times in the first half. Washington led the ’Noles to a 30-18 win and took home the Gator Bowl MVP award. His 16.3 yard per rush average is a single-game school record. Washington finished the season with 1,123 all-purpose yards and led the ACC in rushing. He was also named the team’s most valuable player and earned second-team All-ACC honors.
In 2005 as a senior, Washington’s rushing yards declined, in part due to ankle issues, but he only contributed more to the passing game, catching 25 balls for 279 yards and a very memorable touchdown:
In all, Washington ran in the Garnet and Gold for 2,041 yards - the 10th player in FSU history to rush for 2,000 - and 12 touchdowns and caught 55 passes for 481 yards and a touchdown. He had 635 punt return yards and 709 kickoff return yards and two total touchdowns. Last but not least, he was the first player under Bobby Bowden to score in five different ways - by rush, reception, kick return, punt return, and fumble recovery.
Washington was drafted with the 117th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. In just the second preseason game of his career Washington returned a kickoff 87 yards for a score. Washington was a good all-around player for several years, but his best contributions came on special teams. In 2007 he scored three kick returns for touchdowns. In 2008 Washington had 2,332 all-purpose yards, the most of any running back in the league, including another 94-yard kick return for a touchdown, and was named to the Pro Bowl and as a first-team All-Pro as a kick returner. Two seasons later, after a compound fracture in his leg ended his 2009 season, he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, where he again had three kick returns for touchdowns. In 2012 he made his second Pro Bowl. From 2006 to 2012 Washington was third in the NFL in kick return yardage. Nobody returned more kickoffs back for touchdowns.
In all, Washington retired after 9 seasons with 2,271 career rushing yards for 16 touchdowns at 4.7 yards per rush and 159 reception yards and two more touchdowns. He had 1,793 career punt return yards and 7,553 kick return yards and a whopping eight kick return touchdowns. He had 12,898 career all-purpose yards. Washington is now a WCF Minority Coaching Assistantship/Offense & Special Teams assistant coach with the Detroit Lions.