By Jane McManus
The Journal News • November 21, 2008
He'd watch Martin during position meetings as he carefully took notes so neat and precise that Washington was amazed.
OAS_AD('ArticleFlex_1'); "When he takes his notes, he has the best handwriting I've ever seen," Washington said. "It goes to show how much detail he puts into everything he does in life."
Washington's notes aren't perfect yet, but he got the overall message. Now in his third season with the Jets, Washington is known for practicing just as hard as he plays. The running back has been improving field position and gaining key yards all season. Washington last week was named AFC special-teams player of the week after the Jets beat the Patriots for sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
That's only one of the plaudits Washington has received this season. He leads the NFL in combined yards with 1,475 and broke the team record for career kickoff returns for touchdowns with his fourth. He has also had some heads-up plays for the Jets, such as making sure he was out of bounds to stop a rolling ball on a kickoff return. Due to a little-known rule, the Jets got the ball on the 40-yard line.
"He's a great player,'' running back Thomas Jones said. "He's gifted, he's got great speed, great vision; he can do it all, whether he's running the ball, catching the ball or returning. He's a great player, and we're glad to have him on the team."
Consider then, that Washington is doing this all at 5-foot-8 and 202 pounds. There is a huge variety in an NFL lineup when it comes to sizes and shapes - offensive linemen look very different than cornerbacks - but even taking that into account, Washington could be at a disadvantage.
"Yeah, if you look at Leon's stature as far as his weight, size and height, you'd say by NFL standards, especially for the running-back position, he can't survive," fullback Tony Richardson said. "But the size of his heart is probably bigger than half the guys' in this room."
Washington, who came out of Florida State after growing up in Jacksonville, said he has always refused to see his size as a drawback.
"The best guys that played this game, some of the guys like Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, they were 5-10 and shorter, so I can use that to my advantage," Washington said.
During the offseason after his second year in the league, Washington went up 25 pounds on all his lifts and took the Jets' offseason training crown. And he isn't afraid to block. In the first Patriots game this season, Washington got in between Brett Favre and Adalius Thomas before the linebacker ultimately sacked Favre with Washington hanging on.
"That's Leon," Richardson said. "I'll put him in a fight with anybody, especially on the football field because he's going to give you everything he has with his ability."
Where other guys are loud and boisterous off the field, Washington treats the Florham Park facility as an office - he's all business. He takes this seriously, and on game day, that's the way it needs to be.
"When he gets out there you see that passion and that excitement he brings," Jets center Nick Mangold said.
For Mangini, who used to get on Washington for fumbles and missed plays in Washington's rookie year, it has been good to see him come into his own this season.
"It's really satisfying to see," Mangini said. "He's one of the guys that came in with me and to see his growth and development is great."