They are both from Florida, each graduating from high school in 2002.
And Mike Williams and Leon Washington have converged on the same spot this year, Seahawks teammates who are candidates to be named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“They’ve overcome the odds,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Resurfaced, maybe, when a lot of people might have counted them out. In that, it’s a statement for both guys about how tough they are, how determined they are to push to the limits and show who they are.”
But that’s where the parallels end, and not just because Washington is a 5-foot-8 running back and Williams a 6-5 receiver. They’ve taken very different paths to reach this point, Washington coming back from injury while Williams addressed his work ethic.
And when Williams is asked about the award, he offered directions to the other side of the locker room, where Washington would be.
“Let me direct you,” he said.
Washington suffered a compound fracture of his leg last year while playing for the Jets. It was an injury so serious some thought he would not play football again. The Jets traded Washington to move up in the draft order from the seventh to the fifth round.
Washington, a Pro Bowl returner in 2008, might very well earn that honor again after returning three kickoffs for touchdowns and taking a punt to the 2-yard line this season.
“Leon is one of the top guys in the league at what he does,” Williams said. “He came back from something.”
That’s the difference in Williams’ mind. Washington has reestablished himself. Williams is not reclaiming a starring role in the NFL; he’s claiming it for the first time after spending the past two years out of the league.
“If you can really put your finger on something that I came back from, maybe it’s Comeback Couch Player of the Year,” he said.
Williams was chosen No. 10 overall by Detroit in the 2005 draft. He caught a total of 44 passes his first three years in the league while playing for three teams, and reportedly weighed as much as 270 pounds.
Signed by Seattle in April, he arrived in great shape and has been every bit a No. 1 wideout. He has 60 receptions despite missing all of two games and most of a third. He has been the most important component of Seattle’s passing game, capable of not just winning one-on-one matchups but dominating them. He has three games with 10 or more catches. He has come so far in just one year, Washington said he’d lean toward his teammate if he had a vote.
“He was out of football, for what, two years?” Washington said. “When I was out of football, I missed like nine games. If you’re looking at it in that way, he definitely has the advantage.”
It’s an award Michael Vick might win even though he returned to the NFL a year ago. Now Philadelphia’s starter, Vick has emerged as an MVP candidate.
There’s a criteria to be the Comeback Player of the Year, and in Williams’ mind, Washington fits that.
“That award is for people who have established themselves in the league,” Williams said. “Established themselves playing at a high level and then hit a misfortune, injury or what have you.
“I don’t represent that. I’m not trying to beat myself or talk down on myself, but I don’t represent that.”
And ultimately, the bigger question isn’t who had the bigger comeback, but how far they can carry careers that have rebounded this season in Seattle.