“I set a lot of goals for myself,” Anthony Leonard told BlueGoldNews.com. “I want to have 200 tackles this year. It’s a lot, but it’s possible. I just want to be around the ball. That’s my main goal – to be around the ball on every play.”
That sounds like a brash statement, because to rack up such totals would require the athletic Leonard to be in on approximately 20 tackles per game. However, as the young man speaks of his goals, he doesn’t come across that way at all. Instead, a picture emerges of a focused, driven performer who has set high standards for himself and intends to achieve them. He speaks more of the things he needs to work on than his strengths, and is open about what he has to do to improve. They are just more goals to be reached for the Pittsburgh-area standout.
“I definitely need to work on my footwork and my quickness,” said Leonard, who has been timed anywhere from 4.65 to 4.89 in the 40-yard dash. “I also need to work on hips. I need to open them up more quickly. I want to be down to a 4.7 consistently, and I think I can do that.”
Leonard is playing inside linebacker at McKeesport this year. Depending on how his speed work goes, he could be an outside backer at WVU, but he could also be a candidate in the middle. Should he remain on the inside when he comes to West Virginia, he already has the size (he checked in at 6-1, 229 lbs. at WVU earlier this year) and the strength to do so.
“I’m taking care of the strength department,” Leonard said with a laugh that belies the heavy work he is putting in. “I’m working out all summer, and I think I will be at about 225 for my senior season.”
While it is sometimes confusing for a player to perform at one position in high school and move to another in college, that won’t be a challenge for the peripatetic Leonard. He has played just about every position on the field since the start of his career.
“Oh man,” laughed Leonard when asked to detail his positions. “I started out as a center, then moved to guard, and then tackle. I’ve been a tight end, a quarterback, a running back and now a linebacker. I feel like I can adjust to anything, and play anywhere or any position. I just love to play.”
That mindset carries over when Leonard is asked about his strengths as a player. While many people list a physical attribute first, Leonard’s answer is a bit different.
“I’d have to say my intensity and my leadership are my best qualities. I work hard all through the game, from the first play to the last one. That’s what my ethic is.
“I love contact, too,” Leonard added after a moment’s thought. “At linebacker, that’s the perfect spot for me. “Ninety-nine percent of the plays end up with contact, and being around the ball. After playing all those other positions, that’s why I like linebacker the best.”
Leonard is very familiar with the Mountaineer campus, and has seen it from a couple different perspectives. In addition to his football recruiting visits, he also saw WVU from the basketball side, as his AAU team has played in tournaments in the University City. That’s a sport that he grew up with, and although he will bid it a wistful goodbye after this year, he is philosophical about it.
“I will miss it. It was my first love,” said Leonard of basketball. “But sometimes you have to let things go in order to advance.”
Leonard also displayed that mindset in the recruiting process. He had offers from Iowa and Temple, and serious interest from Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, but decided not to wait for more offers. He saw the offer from West Virginia as a great opportunity, and believed that it was the best fit for him.
With his college choice made, Leonard will now concentrate on his senior season at McKeesport. In addition to his lofty tackling goals, he will also set the bar high for himself in the classroom.
“I had messed up early in my high school career, and it took me a long time to find that out,” said Leonard, echoing the lament of many players who don’t realize until too late that grades will affect their college plans. “But I’m doing o.k. now. I’m on track. My goal is to be up around the 3.2 range by the end of this year, and have a good test score to go with it.”
There’s no doubt that Leonard, a second-team all-conference selection at linebacker as a junior, has mapped out a plan to make himself the best player and student he can be. And with his apparent determination and drive, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him.