Quick-twitch explosions. That’s the way he ran. But Washington, playing for the Jets, wasn’t satisfied with 6 yards. That’s the way he is.
He kept his legs driving like pistons trying to gain another yard or two. But disaster struck at the end of that extra effort.
In the pileup, Oakland lineman Tommy Kelly rolled over Washington’s ankle, grotesquely snapping Washington’s right leg. Washington saw the bone poking through his skin. He saw blood trickling down his shin.
Seven weeks into the 2009 season, he knew his year was finished.
“I could see the bone poking out from my leg,” Washington said, “and real nonchalant, like I’m talking now, I said to the trainers, ‘Hey, I think I broke my leg.’ ”
It was a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula, the kind of injury that could cut short a burgeoning career.
But Washington, who will be 28 when this season begins, never believed that. Never took the pain as a sign of the end of his football life.
“I had no doubt, no doubt at all, that I could come back,” he said this week, on a sunny afternoon after he watched his new Seahawks teammates practice. “Once I got into that locker room and had a chance to talk with the doctors, I knew I’d have a chance to come back.”
Washington is the one unanswered line in Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s 2010 bucket list.
There is nobody else like Washington on the roster. The Hawks have no running back as unrelenting as he is. No back as quick, no back as versatile.
In 2008, Washington had a breakout year with the Jets. He made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner. The 5-foot-8, 195-pounder from Florida State caught 47 passes. In his three-year career, he has averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
In April, the Seahawks traded New York a fifth-round draft pick for Washington. He could be the steal of that weekend.
“I can’t tell you that we’ve seen anything since he’s been here that lets us know that we’ve got a football player of any stature right now,” Carroll said. “I don’t know that.
“I know that what I saw I loved. I loved the way he played. I loved the things he was able to do for the Jets last year. If we get that football player he’s going to be a factor on this team. It’s just going to take some time before we know.”
Washington is the great hope of 2010. The possible answer to the running-back riddle that has plagued the Hawks since the fast fade of Shaun Alexander.
Washington could be the offensive time bomb every defense has to respect. Even now, as he waits and rehabs, Washington looks ready to erupt. He is the kind of positive, effervescent player who can lift an entire team.
And, if he needs a role model for this recovery, Washington can look at Oakland running back Michael Bush, who suffered a similar injury in 2006, in his senior season at Louisville.
“I can only move forward. I can’t live with regrets,” Washington said. “I live by the quote, ‘Man is not alive if he lives with regrets.’ Right now, I think the greatest lesson I can show my two little boys is that, ‘Hey, Dad bounced back from a compound fracture and was able to get back on the field and have a successful career.’ That’s my goal.”
He said the doctors have told him his bones are 95 percent healed.
“I feel like I owe these guys,” Washington said of the Seahawks. “They knew what kind of football player I am, but they didn’t know if I would be back healthy, so that shows they have confidence in me. I’m going to do everything I can to get back on the field and show them how thankful I am.”
For now he stands on the sideline in his blue Seahawks jersey, taking mental notes, wishing he was out there, making the cuts, finding the holes the same way he did just seven months ago.
“I miss being in the huddle,” he said. “I miss listening to the quarterback’s voice. I miss looking into the lineman’s eyes and having the faith in those guys to get you to the Promised Land. I’m itching to get back, and my goal is to be ready by training camp.”
Impatiently Washington waits, knowing what everybody in the organization knows. If Leon Washington is healthy, a moribund offense can be reborn.