Washington is the son of actor Denzel Washington. At a recent fan day for the German team in NFL Europa, the son was swamped by photo-snapping fans wanting a touch of Hollywood.
"They almost see him when they see me," Washington said. "If they want to take a picture, that's fine with me. The way I look at it they are taking pictures of the Hamburg Sea Devils team."
Denzel Washington has won two Oscars — best actor for "Training Day" in 2002 and best supporting actor for "Glory" in 1989. The younger Washington doesn't want the deflected fame, but it's going to be hard to duck when the NFL's developmental league begins its 15th season Saturday.
Photos: Denzel Washington
"It could be a media frenzy for J.D. because everybody wants a piece of him. We're trying to protect him," Sea Devils coach Vince Martino said.
Washington broke most rushing records at Division II Morehouse. He is out to prove to the St. Louis Rams that a 5-foot-9, 200-pound running back can play in the NFL. He played on their practice team last year.
For now, he is playing behind former NFL players Quentin Griffin and Tony Hollings, and Jermaine Allen of Britain.
"I think J.D. would have been better than any running back we had a few years ago, but this is an unusually good year for running backs in this league," Martino said. "He's a good back, but right now he is not on the same level as the others."
The change in the European league stems from a reduction in players sent by NFL teams. A record 274 players allocated by the NFL last season to the six teams is down to 150, opening the door for free agents like Griffin and Hollings.
"Last year, we had just a few spots open on the defensive line. This year, I think half our players are free agents," Martino said. "I believe the league is stronger because you get hungrier guys and you're going to get better quality players."
The league hopes the unsigned free agents will draw more NFL scouts and that more players will return to their European teams next season. That would give teams recognizable faces to market after years of wholesale turnovers in rosters.
The league, which changed its name from NFL Europe this season, has a number of former NFL players, including running backs Derrick Ross and Chris Barclay, and quarterback Cody Pickett.
The Duesseldorf Rhein Fire features Gerald Riggs Jr., son of former Atlanta Falcons running back Gerald Riggs.
The Sea Devils have some additional star power in Dwain Chambers, the British sprinter who once ran the 100 meters in 9.87 seconds. He also drew a two-year doping ban for testing positive for the designer steroid THG.
Washington wants to disprove a Rams scouting report that says he needs more strength and speed to go with quick feet and great vision. In the meantime, he gets along well with his teammates and is hardly about to flaunt his celebrity.
"I'm from the old school; hard work pays off," Washington said. "I'm hoping that I can go back and stick with the Rams."