His new title for this year's Senior Bowl figuratively hugged Leon Washington's still finely tuned frame, as smart as that "sweet" new Jets jacket he was sporting around Mobile in the days before last Saturday's game.
"I think it's a great idea that the Senior bowl decided to do this, allowing the assistant coaches to elevate and move up into different roles," Washington told senior reporter Eric Allen on The Official Jets Podcast about shifting gears from Jets special teams assistant to special teams coordinator for the National team, coached by Robert Saleh's Jets staff.
"It's been great, getting the opportunity to get into the classroom and teach these guys some of the things I've learned. I'm grateful for Brant [Boyer, the Jets' STC] and I'm definitely grateful for Coach Saleh giving me the opportunity to step in front of the class. to teach and coach and control my own room. If you want to be a coordinator in this league, you've got to be able to step into that role. So I look forward to going out there, bringing the intensity, bringing the juice and making plays."
The play-making was done by all the seniors under Washington's wing, but Leon got the intensity and juice flowing for his charges whether indoors or outdoors leading up to the all-star game.
"That's what special teams is," he said. "At the end of the day, as a coach, I'm trying to give you all the tools to get you from point A to point B. But after that, it's juice, it's intensity, it's all those things. When the players hear me in the room or out there on the practice field, they can feel it. All I'm trying to do is demonstrate that so those guys can go out there and do the same thing."
And where did Washington get his fiery football qualities? Well, at first from his parents, who taught him all about resilience and never giving up. Then he took that to the ballfields of northern Florida, from Pop Warner to high school to college. And although he had an outstanding pro playing career with the Seahawks and several other teams, he hit the ground running and returning hard and fast as a 5-9, 195-pound fourth-rounder out of Florida State with the Jets in 2006.
"The main thing is you want to win a Super Bowl. I didn't accomplish that," he told Allen in the wide-ranging interview about his Jets and NFL careers. "I'm a coach now, and I tell my kids this, I tell other coaches this. The only selfish thing I want as a coach is to win a Super Bowl. It can sound selfish, and I know it's a process to do that. But at the same time, I do want to win a Super Bowl."
However, setting that team goal aside, Neon Leon turned his physical and mental abilities on the gridiron into record-book performances not just for his teams but in the NFL.
■ Thirty years after Bruce Harper set the Green & White season record with 2,157 all-purpose yards, Washington surged past Harper with 2,332 yards in 2008.
■ He set the Jets career mark with four KO-return touchdowns from 2006-09. Then he shattered Seattle's career mark with four more KOR TDs from 2010-12.
■ That adds up to eight kickoff return TDs in his NFL career. No. 8 with the Seahawks in 2012 tied him with Josh Cribbs for the career mark and Cordarrelle Patterson, still active, got to eight in 2020.
"It's a special thing," he said of his eight scores. "It's good from the Jets organization's standpoint that they can be a part of that, and it's special, it's down in the history books."
The Jets organization also had a hand in Washington's coaching career, as did Saleh. But it may surprise some fans of No. 29 in green and white that he came to the pros with coaching blood coursing through his veins.
"I always had the itch for it," he said. "And then having three boys and a little girl at home, I'm always coaching. And honestly, all I know is football. I know the game, I grew up in Florida playing the game, outside all the time So for me it was just natural to give back to the game in this way."
Washington did several NFL coaching internships, which is where he ran into Saleh, first as a player when Saleh was the Seahawks' defensive quality control coach, then in 2016 with his hometown team when Saleh was coaching the Jaguars' linebackers.
"When he was a quality control guy, he was awesome," Washington recalled of Saleh. "And in Jacksonville, one thing that sticks out to me is that about 5:45 we'd get into the weightroom to work out, and every single day I expected him not to be there. But he was there every single day. I know the work ethic he'll put into this, the genuine care he has for the players, who really want to play for him. And I know how smart he is as a coach, really, really detailed.
When Saleh extended a chance to coach with the Jets, "it was just a natural fit for me to come help him out."
Washington came aboard a year ago, joining Michael Ghobrial as assistants on Boyer's ST staff. He worked with Braxton Berrios, who led the league in kickoff-return average, and he got to observe the rapid development of rookie RB Michael Carter — another Jets fourth-round RB pick whose selection Leon got to reveal publicly on day three of the April draft.
"In so many ways, Michael is similar to me," Washington said. "His size coming in, he can break a bunch of tackles, he's extremely smart, you can tell he was well-coached in college. And he's just a gamer. You can feel his intensity on the field. We're heading in the right direction when we bring in guys like that."
Which neatly tied together his twin podcast themes of juice and championships. He offered Jets a simple, vague yet beguiling timetable: "Hang in there with us. It's a process. We're building this thing. But I promise you Coach Saleh is going to lead us the right way. And I'm going to do whatever I can to bring this organization another Super Bowl."