Football journey: Leon Washington

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran running back Leon Washington wanted to do more for the New England Patriots through the first half of the season, but thigh and ankle injuries have limited him to just two games.

Now he’s hoping the words his father often relays -- “the best is yet to come” -- hold true for the second half.

“It’s extremely disappointing from my standpoint,” Washington said this week. “I’ve broken my leg, but I’ve never really been banged up and missed games like that. It’s kind of tough dealing with it, but being around the locker room and being with the coaches, they’re awesome here. It’s a great locker room.”

Like other injured players, Washington said he sometimes feels “worthless” because he’s not playing. So in addition to focusing on his rehabilitation, he’s tried to be like a coach to his fellow running backs, such as working closely with LeGarrette Blount on kickoff returning.

On Wednesday, Washington returned to practice for the first time in three weeks, which is a sign that he’s getting closer to a return.

This is his “football journey”:

When he first started playing football: “I first started playing contact football at 10 years old, in Jacksonville, Florida. I played for the Arlington Warriors."

What got him started: “When I was born, Aug. 29, 1982, my dad’s best friend came to the hospital and put a football on my chest, so my dad always told me I was born to play football. When I was young, I was like the sandlot king, always playing. Then I played flag football for a couple years before I played contact. It was something I always dreamed of, always wanted to do.”

Favorite teams growing up: “I’d sit in front of the TV and root for the red team, the 49ers. Joe Montana. John Taylor. Tom Rathman. Roger Craig. Brent Jones. Obviously Jerry Rice, and then in later years with Steve Young, T.O., and those guys. I just remember those guys being so dominant. And on defense, you had guys like Ronnie Lott. Then around ’95, when the Jaguars came to Jacksonville, I switched up and became a Jaguar fan.”

Football memories from Andrew Jackson High School: “We beat Raines High School, our rivals, my junior year. That was the first time we beat them in 25 years.”

Attending Florida State: “I grew up a diehard [Florida] Gators fan. But I started talking to Bobby Bowden, and when he came into the house, he closed the deal. I fell in love with Florida State and switched up on them.”

Favorite football memory at Florida State: “From an individual perspective, my freshman year we were playing against Florida in a big rival game at the end of the year. We were in the locker room and I was starting that game because Greg Jones got hurt. Bobby Bowden was like ‘We need you to get it done tonight, and if you don’t, we’ll need to pull Lorenzo Booker out of his redshirt.’ That motivated me to have a great game.”

Selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft by the Jets: “I immediately thought about Curtis Martin and how I could go in and learn from him. He was tremendous. A big memory with him, when I came into the meeting room with him, I watched how he took notes. He had the best handwriting I’ve ever seen. It was better than my Kindergarten teacher -- so neat and so strategic. That kind of prepared me throughout my career to take care of details and it will take you a long way.”

Top football memories with the Jets (2006-09): “My rookie year, we were fighting, obviously against the Patriots, to get that wild-card [berth]. We were playing the Dolphins on Christmas night. We needed to win if we wanted the wild card and we ran a screen play and I took off almost 70 yards to get us into field goal range to win the game.”

Traded to the Seahawks in 2010: “It kind of came as a surprise. When you come into the league, you’re thinking ‘I want to be with this one team forever. I want to start here and retire here.’ At the same time, it was a great opportunity. I was on the phone with Pete Carroll and he said, ‘We want you to come out here and be our returner and some other things.’ I was thankful for the opportunity, especially coming off a broken leg. That was pretty cool -- getting traded after breaking your leg.”

Top football memories with the Seahawks (2010-12), where he was the NFC's Pro Bowl returner in 2012: “I would definitely say beating the Saints in that playoff game. We were 7-9, the only team to go to the playoffs at 7-9 in NFL history. Nobody gave us a shot.”

Signing with the Patriots in 2013 after being released by Seattle: “When New England called, it was cool and a good opportunity. Obviously, studying these guys from afar and seeing the things they did and how they carried themselves as an organization, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Role models growing up: “I would definitely have to say my dad. I’ve taken so many quotes and phrases from him throughout my life. One thing he always tells me is, no matter what -- whether it’s good or bad -- ‘Leon, the best is yet to come.’”

Coaches who made their mark with him as a youngster: “John Mike introduced me to organized football at the age of 10. He’s a retired police officer from Jacksonville. He would come and pick me up and bring me to Arlington. From that point, he became my godfather, and was later my high school running backs coach. He’s always been tremendous in my life.”

Thoughts on what he might do post-career: “It’s definitely going to be coaching. I think I’d want to start off with college first. I feel like you have a chance to really affect kids’ lives. If you get a young guy in college, you can make a big difference as he transitions into adulthood.”

What he loves about football: “The camaraderie that you have with other guys on the team. Unlike other sports like basketball or track, some of those individual sports or with less players on the court, I think the camaraderie and developing relationships with guys ... the fact that you grind all year long just to play a game. That, right there, when you talk to guys who get done playing is what they say they really miss -- coming in and laughing with the guys.”

Summing up his football journey: “It’s been fun. It’s been great. Dealing with adversity through football has definitely made me a better man, on and off the field. Just the rewards that you see that you get when you put in the hard work, and how it pays off when you get on the field, it’s something you never forget. It’s something I’ll pass on to my kids.”