|04-16-2007, 01:18 PM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Saratoga, NY
RB Leonard carries one chance at two dreams
By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Running back Brian Leonard looks forward to bringing extraordinary intensity to the NFL after a record-setting career at Rutgers.
He will, after all, be playing with the passion of two young men.
Widely projected as a second-round choice in the April 28-29 NFL draft, Brian will carry the dashed football hopes of his older brother and only sibling, Nate, another Rutgers alum. Nate's career was shortened by a twice-dislocated shoulder and three injuries to his left knee, each more debilitating.
"He lives the game through me," Leonard says of his brother, "and I love that."
Nate, whose injuries led to depression when he realized his playing dreams were extinguished, gradually recovered and immersed himself in a career in commercial real estate in Teterboro, N.J. He is thrilled about the football possibilities that await his younger brother.
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"We're very close," says Nate, who agrees with his brother's assessment of their relationship. "I kind of am living my dream through him."
Nate and the rest of the Leonard family will truly be living vicariously if an NFL club selects their 6-1, 226-pound relative.
At the NFL scouting combine in February, Brian had the best 40-yard dash time among fullbacks — 4.55 seconds — and led all running backs in the 225-pound bench press with 28 repetitions.
Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson is seen as the draft's top ballcarrier. But Leonard is confident in his attractiveness to an NFL club, even though his statistics declined sharply last season because he switched from tailback to fullback.
"I feel I'm one of the most versatile backs going into this draft," he says. "I'm maybe not the best runner. I'm maybe not the best blocker, but overall I feel I'm one of the most versatile."
The Leonards grew up 30 miles from the Canadian border in Gouverneur, N.Y., yearning to be on the same field. Nate was three years older and Brian's talent was abundant, so they thought it would happen in the older brother's final high school or college season.
"They are as connected as can be," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano says.
The brothers never played together.
"I guess there was a different plan for me," Nate says.
Injuries snatch away a dream
After tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the third game of his senior season in high school, Nate dislocated his left shoulder twice as a college freshman, then tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the fourth game of his sophomore season. He started at safety and linebacker before hurting his knee again as a junior. He pushed through six months of rehabilitation but finally couldn't continue.
He stopped only after coaches and medical personnel convinced him no workout regimen could eliminate the bone-on-bone condition that will never allow him to run at full speed. He walks normally, is unable to jog and relies on pedaling a stationary bike to maintain conditioning.
Nate says he was depressed once the sport was taken away. His injuries made him feel vulnerable for the first time.
"When you're healthy and playing football and you're on the field with your teammates," he says, "you feel you can do anything out there."
When Nate initially hurt his knee in high school, the list of Big East and Atlantic Coast conference teams recruiting him dwindled to one: Rutgers.
Brian was more heavily recruited, attracting interest from Penn State, Notre Dame and Syracuse, among others. Yet he committed early to Rutgers even though it was mired at the bottom of Division I-A.
The way Brian saw it, Rutgers had been there for his brother when no one else was. He would be there for Rutgers.
Previous coach Terry Shea's loyalty toward Nate ultimately paid dividends for Schiano, who took over in 2001, just before Brian's senior year of high school. Brian far exceeded expectations as his running, receiving and selfless leadership helped Rutgers rise to national prominence.
•He is the Scarlet Knights' all-time leader in touchdowns with 45 and points by a non-kicker with 272.
•He is Rutgers' all-time receptions leader with 207, and he set a Big East record with at least one catch in all 47 games of his career.
•His school-best 678 rushing attempts produced 2,775 yards, fifth all time. His 1,868 receiving yards stand seventh.
And yet he became a fullback to pave the way for more explosive Ray Rice to set a Big East single-season rushing record with 1,794 yards last season. That helped Rutgers finish 12th in the national rankings with an 11-2 record and a victory against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl — Rutgers' first bowl win in 137 seasons of football.
Off the field, Brian won the Draddy Award — given to the national scholar-athlete of the year by the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame — after finishing with a 3.3 grade-point average as a labor relations major. His extensive community service ranged from working in New Jersey's Special Olympics program to visiting local schools to delivering Christmas presents to hospitalized youngsters.
"He's so gifted. He can do so many things," Schiano says, "and yet he's an unselfish guy. To do what he did in this day and age (in agreeing to change positions) is very rare. You don't get many Brian Leonards in your coaching career."
Leonard delights in the legacy his class left. "The whole country knows it now that Rutgers is on the rise," he says. "The guys in my group can look back at that and know we started that foundation."
Showed versatility as a senior
Leonard seriously considered entering the draft after his junior season, when Rutgers went 7-5 and played in its first bowl game since 1978. He admits he was concerned how NFL teams would view him if his stats dropped. But he wanted to complete unfinished business on behalf of the long-suffering program, and his decision to return ultimately enhanced his prospects.
He became convinced of that at the combine. He wanted to know what teams were thinking after his rushing yardage dropped from 740 as a junior to 423 as a senior, his receptions dropped from 55 to 38 and his touchdown total fell from 11 to five. He asked one of the coaches if getting less carries his senior year had hurt his standing.
"He said, 'Absolutely not. You showed you can take a full load at fullback and can also play running back. It shows how versatile you are,' " Leonard recalls.
Peterson, expected to go among the first few picks in the draft, possesses the size (6-1, 217 pounds) and speed (4.39 seconds in the 40) to be a full-time breakaway threat. California's Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215) is seen as the other first-round running back after rushing for 1,356 yards and adding 328 receiving last season as a junior.
But with teams increasingly asking two backs to carry the load instead of one, Leonard's timing would seem to be perfect. He has the elusiveness to be a premier ballcarrier and the power needed to clear a path as a fullback. The debate is not about his ability but about what role he should play. "I am totally frustrated by all of the people trying to tell me he has to play fullback," says Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft analyst. "I've watched a bunch of tape, and to me he's an NFL tailback."
Offensive coordinators will be drawn to Leonard because of his pass-catching ability, a talent he says was always there.
"You can tell if someone catches the ball naturally or really has to focus on catching the ball," he says. "I've always been able to catch the ball pretty well. I've been blessed with that."
Tailback or fullback?
"It depends on who drafts him," Schiano says. "He can do either."
Mayock, who envisions Leonard as a second-round draft choice, agrees with that.
"His skills would work as a fullback in a West Coast offense," he says, "because he catches the ball so well."
The only fault Mayock finds is that Leonard is not "a particularly good blocker."
Leonard, noting his relative lack of experience at fullback, does not disagree: "I definitely have areas I can improve on in blocking, but I have improved."
Some former tailbacks would shy from fullback-style contact, but that is no problem for him. "I'm a physical guy," he says. "It felt just as good to blow someone up for Ray than to get into the end zone myself."
Leonard's enthusiasm, stoked with motivation, was evident from his Rutgers freshman year, when he wore his brother's No. 15 jersey for one season before shifting to No. 23.
"Nate was always Brian's idol," says their mother, Laurie. "He wanted to be just like his brother."
Brian remembers how Nate slept in a chair because it was too painful for him to lie in a bed while recovering from shoulder surgery. He vividly recalls how his brother did knee-bends deep into the night, trying to regain flexibility. He'll never forget how quickly the cheering stopped for Nate.
In one sense, though, their dream of playing together will come true. Nate looks forward to watching Brian's pro debut from the stands, thinking along with him, feeling what he feels.
"I don't know how to explain it," Nate says. "It's just going to be great."
Posted 11h 18m ago
|04-16-2007, 02:48 PM||#2|
Anybody want a peanut?
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Ceti Alpha V
People don't like thinking of him at running back because he's white. I think he could be a good running back. He seems like a good football player and he ran a4.52, which isn't blazing speed, but he plays fast and is big and physical. I think Shanahan would be able to use him really well, but I think he's a first day pick and I think we can use our first day picks on other things. I wouldn't mind going second day on Michael Bush, though. He's already hurt, so that's gotta entice Shanny!
|04-16-2007, 03:50 PM||#3|
Join Date: Jul 2006
The only possible way i see us picking him is if we trade our 1st to Tampa for both of their seconds. With three 2nd rounders i could see shanny taking a shot at him.
|04-16-2007, 05:02 PM||#4|
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Twixt Hell & Highwater
He's going to be another John Riggins. The teams that pass on Leonard will regret it. Best case scenario: Some team picks him up that doesn't have a clue what to do with Brian except try and stuff him in the FB slot and in two years they trade him to the Broncos.
|04-16-2007, 06:24 PM||#5|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Mar 2004
Personally I think this kid is destined for the Pats, they'll "overpick" him and turn him into a star out of the backfield. Combining him and Maroney would just be disgusting.
|04-16-2007, 06:29 PM||#6|
Lost In Space
Join Date: Apr 2004
|04-16-2007, 07:00 PM||#7|
Join Date: Dec 2006
|04-16-2007, 10:30 PM||#8|
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Join Date: Dec 2002