A knee injury prevented Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin from playing for the Jets in 2006, but it didn't stop him from mentoring his younger teammates. Namely Florida State rookie running back Leon Washington.
"The first thing that hit my mind (after I was picked by the Jets) was 'Oh, man, Curtis Martin is there,'" said Washington, who was selected in the fourth round. "So, I had the opportunity to learn from him. And the main thing I got was to be a professional was all about details. I was watching Curtis take notes in the meeting room and he was taking his notes in cursive, and he had some of the best handwriting I've ever seen. I was like, 'Man, this guy's extremely detailed. He's not just scribbling all over his notepads.' That has stuck with me ever since then.
"You're talking about one of the best running backs to ever play this game, one of the toughest running backs to ever play this game, and one of the smartest running backs to ever play this game. And for him to pass that on to guys like me and Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock during that time was huge."
Starting eight games during his first season, Washington acclimated quickly to the NFL and led the Jets in rushing with 650 yards and four touchdowns.
"I have to give a lot of credit to two coaches," Washington said. "One being (running backs coach) Jimmy Raye. He would harp on details. I knew I was blessed and gifted to play the game, but it really came down to the details and to prepare myself for the game mentally. Jimmy Raye would not let up on me. He pushed me hard in practice and he pushed me hard in the classroom.
"And (head coach) Eric Mangini really pushed me, as well. He expected a lot out of me my rookie year and wanted me to go out there and contribute. So, that was huge my rookie year with those two coaches pushing me and pushing the details because they knew they would need me down the road to help us get in the playoffs."
In his second season, Washington shined on special teams, returning three kickoffs for touchdowns. His teammates voted him as the MVP, which coincidentally was renamed to the Curtis Martin Jets MVP Award that year after he retired.
"It was a tremendous honor," Washington said. "Obviously, one of the greatest compliments you can have is from your teammates because they're in the thick of things with you, they grind with you, they work hard in practice with you, they fight in the games with you. A lot of times you might not get credit from people on the outside, but at least your teammates can see what's going on."
Washington did get credit from people on the outside the following season when he led the league with 2,372 all-purpose yards and found the end zone nine times. His efforts led him to be named All-Pro as well as be chosen to play in the Pro Bowl.
"In 2008, everything just kind of came together. I had more of a role on offense and I had a role on special teams," Washington said. "I think what gave me an advantage was my intelligence. I think I really prepared myself well. I knew going into the game, some of the things that could become issues.
"I just embraced being an all-around football player. So, if that was returning kicks, returning punts, catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball out of the backfield, blocking for the quarterback, it didn't really matter. That year everything came together and gave me an opportunity to display my talents."
With the Jets for four seasons from 2006-09, Washington concluded his nine-year NFL career playing for Seattle, New England, and Tennessee. What sets Jet fans apart from the others?
"I would run into fans in the grocery store and around town and their knowledge of the game just stuck out," Washington said. "They not only know who was on the team, but they knew what role that the player may have on the team."
Washington chose to stay involved with the game following his playing days and began pursuing a career in coaching.
"Ever since I was a little kid and first started playing football in Pop Warner, I always had passion to help my teammates out and give back to the game. So, once I got done playing in 2014, I needed something to fill that void. Having the opportunity to play the game, I needed to share the game," Washington said.
"Having great coaches like Jimmy Raye, Mike Westhoff, Sherman Smith when I was in Seattle, they gave a lot to me on the field, but definitely off the field, they taught me a bunch of life lessons. That's what I enjoy more than anything else, just sharing that knowledge of the game and sharing my experiences on and off the field."
After taking part in the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship with the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington is now in his second season with the Detroit Lions as part of the team's William Clay Ford Minority Coaching Assistantship Program.
"(Lions head coach) Matt Patricia does a great job of giving us the opportunity to coach, giving us the opportunity to share our presentations in front of the whole team, and help our coaching situation out," Washington said. "I'm extremely blessed because not too many teams do this. Most teams do the Bill Walsh internship and then they send you home. I'm grateful to the Lions for giving me the opportunity to actually coach.
"I help out on offense with the running backs and on special teams with the returners. I also help out in the weight room. So, I have three roles where I can reach players in different avenues and impact them in different ways.
"Working in the weight room getting them prepared physically. With the returners, just sharing my knowledge of the game. Teaching them how to read punters, teaching them how to read kickers when they're kicking the ball off. And with running backs, teaching them pass protection and how to run routes when they're coming out of the backfield. Whatever the offensive coordinator or the special teams coordinator may need, I'm there to help."