Sept. 8, 2005
The drive from Jacksonville to Tallahassee is just less than 175 miles. It’s a relatively easy drive; a straight shot from the largest city in the state of Florida to the capital city of the state.
For senior running back Leon Washington, the path from Jacksonville’s inner city to Doak S. Campbell Stadium wasn’t such a smooth ride, however.
Washington has been working his way out of the shadows and into the spotlight for as long as he can remember. He grew up on the mean streets of Jacksonville where one wrong step could have taken him down the wrong path and away from all of his hopes and dreams. Fortunately, Washington was surrounded by an ex-tended family who guided him on the path to success.
Now he is realizing the hopes and dreams he has envisioned as long as he can remember.
“I remember watching football games with my dad at our house,” Washington said. “I have dreamed of playing football for as long as I can remember. But more importantly, I have dreamed about showing my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews that they should be dreamers and that they can reach all of their dreams. I want to be a leader for my family.”
With five brothers and sisters and 11 nieces and nephews, Washington displayed his inner resolve when he became the first member of his family to graduate from high school and attend college. The social science major will be only 20 credit hours shy of earning his degree from Florida State when the 2005 football
season ends. He has made a promise to his mother and father that he will earn his degree from Florida State.
“Graduating from high school and going to college are two solid accomplishments that I can point to with my family,” Washington said. “I have been given the opportunity to see that there is a better life out there. I was given the chance to live a better life and that’s what I want to get across to the younger people in my life.”
An opportunity, whether academically or athletically, is all Washington has ever needed to get himself to the next level. The opportunity to play and excel as a youngster on the football field, an All-American at Andrew Jackson High School in his hometown and now as a standout player at Florida State, has put him in position to play at the next level.
He could have passed up his senior season for the riches of the NFL after his junior season but decided to return to Florida State and help the Seminoles play for another national championship.
“I haven’t had anything my whole life so it didn’t hurt me to come back for another year,” Washington said. “Plus, coming back helps me become a better player and allows me to play with a great group of seniors, and winning another national championship is something I’d like to get done for Coach Bowden.”
Bowden echoes those sentiments about his star ball carrier.
“Leon has been a remarkable player as long as he has been here,” Bowden said. “He gave a lot to the team his first year on punt and kickoff returns and played real well as a back-up tail-back. He has done things the right way every year he has been here. Now he is in his last year, and I hope he will continue to help our team in the same ways he has throughout his career.”
Washington has enjoyed a remarkable career and hopes to add to his résumé as a senior. As a junior, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing with a career-high 95.1 yards per game average and he begins his senior season as an All-America candidate who is recognized as one of the top running backs in the nation. He was named the Most Valuable Player in last year’s Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia and will soon become one of the top 10 rushers in school history.
Records and personal awards don’t mean a great deal to Washington.
“Breaking and setting records is a personal thing,” Washington said. “They are things you remember personally. My thing about breaking records is that if you prepare yourself and you work hard then things will come your way — accolades will come naturally. If you are the type of person who goes out and tries to break records, they probably won’t come your way.”
Winning games is why Washington plays the game.
“Winning football games and playing for a national championship is the most important thing to me and this team,” Washington said. “Becoming an All-American is something one or two people might remember. But winning a national championship, that’s something the whole university community will remember.”
While he will be long remembered for his play on the football field, Washington’s lasting impression will be one of giving back and showing others that they, too, can realize their dreams if they are willing to work hard enough to achieve the things that are important to them.
“I love going back to my high school and giving back to the guys on the team now,” Washington said. “I go over there to help the younger kids out. I just want to let the kids know that they have the opportunity to escape from the environment they are in. I did it and there is no reason they can’t get it done. I love to mentor kids. I like to let the kids know that they can make a positive out of a negative situation — I am the example of that.
Because of his hard work and perseverance, the road from Jacksonville to Tallahassee is a lot easier now that Washington has smoothed out the bumps.
By Chuck Walsh
Associate Director of Sports Information