If Seattle receives the kickoff in Sunday's season opener, there's a good chance Leon Washington will be the first Seahawk to touch a football in the 2010 season. Even if he simply catches a kick deep in the end zone and elects to take a knee, the season already will have its first feel-good moment after just one play.
Washington has spent months checking off milestones in his comeback from the horrific leg injury that ended his season last October. First time running at full speed since suffering a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula? Check. First practice of training camp? Done. First preseason game, and with that, first time getting hit? Piece of cake.
But now it's real. When he takes the field against the 49ers, either as a kick returner or at running back, Washington's comeback will be complete.
"Obviously it was one of my goals after I broke my leg last year to make the opening-day roster and actually play," he said. "It's just another stepping stone, another milestone in my book. To get back and have my boys have a story to read that their dad came back from a compound fracture and was able to come back and have a successful career, I'm looking forward to climbing over that next hurdle."
And make no mistake, this isn't just a feel-good comeback story. Washington is expected to be a difference maker this season, even with a medal rod permanently inserted in his right leg. A team that lacked big-play threats last season, the Seahawks acquired Washington in a draft-weekend trade with the New York Jets knowing they were taking a bit of a risk, but also aware that the potential payoff could be huge.
Washington has gone to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner. As a third-down back in New York, he showed explosive playmaking ability as a rusher and pass catcher. Seahawks fans caught a glimpse of what Washington can do in a preseason game last month. Playing against the Packers in his first game action since being carted off the field, Washington took his second carry in a Seahawks uniform and shot through the hole for an 11-yard touchdown. The run didn't feature any highlight-reel moves, but the speed with which Washington accelerated into the secondary showed that if he's not all the way back, he's darn close.
"I'm right there, my body feels great," he said. "It's encouraging to see how well my leg has responded during training camp -- it's still a work in progress, it's going to take a little bit more time -- but I'm close and I'm looking forward to it."
A severe break in the lower leg certainly isn't as serious for an athlete as it once was, but any leg injury is scary to a football player whose career is built on speed and elusiveness. If Washington isn't one of the fastest, shiftiest players on the field, quite frankly he'll cease to be on the field. So there were certainly a few doubts in Washington's mind as he underwent surgery, then began the rehabilitation process, although his wife, Charity, insists Leon was the one keeping her calm.
But now Washington is back, comeback nearly complete. At some point Sunday, be it on the opening kickoff or a first-half Seahawks possession, he'll reap the benefits of a spring and summer full of grueling rehab. He'll get to check off that final box on his comeback list: back on the field for the season opener.
"This injury is pretty strange, especially to a guy of my skill set, so we were basically going off of how I feel throughout the process," he said. "They told me, 'If you put in the hard work, it can definitely happen.' I've been working hard and putting in the time, and it happened for me. So to any kid who doesn't believe you can overcome adversity, this is proof that you can do it."
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