Pro football player Leon Washington has come a long way from growing up on the rough streets of Jacksonville's Eastside to playing in the NFL, where he's been named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams (two times and three times, respectively) and shares the NFL record for most kickoff return touchdowns (eight, tied with Josh Cribbs).
Now, Washington, who plays for the New England Patriots as a running back/return specialist, is hoping to do the same for other kids in his hometown with the creation of the Leon Washington Foundation, a grassroots organization designed to enlighten, inspire and educate Jacksonville youth and their parents, since, as Washington says, "It all starts at home."
"I had a pretty rough childhood … five brothers and sisters … on welfare. It was hard trying to get by," he recalls. Washington's salvation came in the form of Coach Mike, a police officer who recognized his raw talent playing football in the neighborhood and took him to a Pop Warner game — and Marc Simon, a friend he met at age 10, who gave him a glimpse into a better life, the kind where people live on golf courses and have swimming pools in their backyards. Having someone believe in him and being introduced to a life that he could aspire to are experiences that Washington wants to share with local kids.
Washington hosts "Poker Face" Casino Night, the official launch party for the Leon Washington Foundation 7-11 p.m. June 28 at WJCT. General admission tickets are $25; VIP tickets are $75 and include complimentary drinks, player meet and greet, and guaranteed play on gaming tables with celebrities.
Confirmed celebrities include Tony Carter, corner back, Denver Broncos; Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals, Darrelle Revis, corner back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Michael Robinson, full back, Seattle Seahawks; and Leon Washington, running back, New England Patriots.
Washington and his pro athlete friends will also serve guests at the Breakfast of Champions on June 30 at Jacksonville Golf and Country Club. The event benefits the Andrew Jackson High School athletic department.
Oh, and one other small detail: I hear that Washington's new teammate Tim Tebow has been invited and will attend if his schedule allows.