RENTON, Wash. – Leon Washington is back.
He’s no longer a Jet. Yet the former All-Pro is soaring again, 10 months after a grotesque compound fracture in his leg.
He thanks uncle George Mangrum back in Jacksonville, Fla., for that.
“He taught me a lot, mostly about hard work and appreciation,” Washington said Wednesday, after another practice as the Seahawks’ first-team running back. “Before my senior year in high school I went out and laid concrete with him. Blocks and bricks. And, man, when I did that…”
Washington shook his sweat-covered head.
“Yeah, I remember that vividly, boy. … When I came back, I was strong as an ox, man. I won weightlifting contests from lifting those blocks and bricks.”
He’s won way more than that. Mangrum’s nephew took those lessons learned in the stifling Florida heat and humidity and became Mr. Florida in football for 2002 months later at Andrew Jackson High. At Florida State, he was the only player in the Bobby Bowden era to score a touchdown five different ways. He was a Pro Bowl kick returner for New York in 2008.
Then last week, Mangrum died in his early 50s after a long battle with illness. Washington, his family and six of his other aunts and uncles remain in mourning.
“It was special. I scored a touchdown a day after he passed away,” Washington said, his voice filled with pride. “I’m sure he had something to do with that.”
That touchdown was Washington’s first for the Seahawks since they acquired him in a trade from the Jets in April for a fifth-round draft pick. He doesn’t mind that he has a rod in his right leg from the compound fracture of the tibia and fibula he suffered in a game at Oakland last October.
“Just getting back on the field again made me really, really appreciate how much I love this job,” he said of his Seattle debut last weekend.
He will start Saturday night in Seattle’s third exhibition game, at Minnesota. It’s essentially the final dress rehearsal before the regular season starts Sept. 12. Seattle ends the preseason five days later with a throwaway exhibition at Oakland.
Coach Pete Carroll had cautioned Washington would be limited in training camp, yet he’s been going all out since almost Day One. His only limitation: Carroll won’t let him return kickoffs yet.
Saturday night, he took a stretch handoff behind left tackle and didn’t even cut before bolting through the line unlike any back Seattle has had in years. As he ran through the end zone to celebrate his 11-yard touchdown run, he had his arms extended rigidly to each side at shoulder height. Then he tilted like … a jet?
“I was told I need to flap my arms more,” he said. “I saw that hawk come out that tunnel and it just stays low like that. Just got to get a little more flap next time.”
His new teammates love him. One late night in training camp, way past curfew, he sent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck a text message asking about a pass route on a third-down play.
“I got the text at 5 in the morning and I texted him back,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s just rare that a guy cares that much, he’s working that hard and he’d reach out to guys.”