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Florida Sun Will Shine on Washington, Westhoff


You have to wonder if Dolphins special teams coach John Bonamego has had trouble sleeping lately, thinking about the Jets' potent W&W attack. Dangerous Jets return man Leon Washington will return to his native state Sunday and specials team coach Mike Westhoff makes an improbable return to the Green & White.

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It seems like every time the 5'8", 202-pound Washington plays the Dolphins, he plays big. Last September, his 98-yard kickoff return against the 'Fins was the first KR touchdown in his career. Then down in Florida last December, Washington ran for a season-high 68 yards and tied a personal high with two TDs on the ground.

And there was that memorable 64-yard gain on a screen pass in Miami on Christmas Night that helped vault the Jets to the postseason in his rookie year.

"I love playing in Florida. I love being in Florida. I love to be in the sunshine," Washington said.

He really is Mr. Florida. Washington, who graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in Jacksonville in 2002, earned that distinction after rushing for 2,437 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior. He stayed in the Sunshine State and played at Florida State, becoming the only 'Nole in the Bobby Bowden era to score touchdowns five different ways (run, reception, PR, KR and FR) before the Jets stole him with a fourth-round selection in 2006.

There will be thousands of Jets fans Sunday at Dolphin Stadium and the Washington contingent will number at least 20.

"I'm so far from home, close to 2,000 miles from Florida. Just to have the opportunity to play in front of my family and my friends and knowing they're there supporting me is always a big enough reason to go out there and be successful and win," Washington said. "I can definitely say I love being in Florida."

Leon Washington Jr. will be among those cheering on the Jets' 2007 MVP. His dad beams when he thinks about his 2-year-old namesake.

"Absolutely, he'll be down there with my dad," he said. "He will be down there with his grandfather, so he'll have the opportunity to see his dad play down in Florida."

Washington will take his marching orders this weekend from Westhoff, who rejoined the Jets coaching staff on Monday. Westhoff, a cancer survivor who is six months removed from a ninth medical procedure on his left leg, received medical clearance to come back and coach.

"You have to understand Westhoff is a funny guy," Washington said. "He has a repertoire of jokes in his mind, so just having him joking in the meeting room has been fun. But at the same time, he's serious — the way he talks to his players, the way he demands for us to go out and do well, and the way he gives examples from the past. Just having him back has been really, really special for us."

While Westhoff will resume his playcalling duties, the Green & White will benefit from a strong duo with special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea.

"Those guys have much respect for each other. O'Dea understands what Westhoff has done and Westhoff understands what O'Dea has done with the kickers and the special teams," Washington said. "They have mutual respect for each other. They don't have any problem at all."

Only one of the top NFL, Westhoff is beloved by his players. He is a character full of character.

"For a coach to go through what he's been through with cancer and with numerous surgeries to fight back and look better than ever, it obviously says a lot about his fortitude and how hard he's worked to get himself back to what he does best, and that's coaching," Washington said. "So hats off to him — he did a really good job of getting back and getting back fast and being healthier and stronger."

It's somewhat ironic the Jets will open up in Miami. Westhoff had a 15-year run as the 'Fins special teams coach and he still calls Florida home in the off-season.

"Everyone in Miami knows Westhoff. He loves Florida. He is always talking about fishing down there," Washington said. "He loves Miami and that was his first home, but he's a Jet right now and he's been here for a long time. And trust me, Westhoff wants to go out there and win."

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