MEAC great Leonard seeks Senior (Bowl) moments

(STATS) – Darius Leonard has plenty of people to call upon for advice as he heads toward a potential NFL career.

Former South Carolina State teammates Antonio Hamilton, Javon Hargrave, Temarrick Hemingway and Joe Thomas are all at the next level, often telling Leonard to have focus and to stay patient because his time is coming.

But the FCS All-America linebacker also keeps the inquiries within the family because his brother, Anthony Waters, also played the position in the NFL, most notably on the 2010 New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl-winning team.

“His motto is ‘outwork the person besides you,’” Leonard said, “because if you outwork him, you’re going to catch somebody else’s eye because you can do the same thing that the guy besides you is doing, but do it so much better. They’re going to want you.”

This week, Leonard is seeking to put himself in demand as a member of the South team at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. A week’s worth of practices and interviews with NFL teams lead into the 69th annual game Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium (2:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network).

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Leonard combines athleticism with NFL-level range. He was a stud tackler while playing sideline-to-sideline at South Carolina State, winning MEAC defensive player of the year each of the last two seasons, joining Thomas and Hargrave to keep the award in the South Carolina State family for five straight years.

A South Carolina native, the scholarship offer he sought in high school from Clemson never came, but he showcased his talent against the Tigers during their 2016 national championship-winning season. As a junior, he racked up a career-high 19 tackles and blocked a field goal in a loss at Death Valley.

While at South Carolina State, Leonard believes he developed a sense for dissecting a play before it happens. He says he wants to be more physical against the run, although his school-record 394 tackles suggest he might be there already. He was in on 53 tackles for loss, 21 1/2 sacks and nine takeaways as well.

Dane Brugler, the senior analyst for NFLDraftScout, wrote, “Lining up as the WILL in South Carolina State’s 4-2-5 scheme, Leonard looks the part with his long, athletic frame, showing the play range to blitz, play both sidelines and drop in traffic. He needs to shore up his anticipation to get a head start on the play, but the tape matches the production.”

“The best-case scenario (at the Senior Bowl) is I go out and prove to the world that I can play and do all the things that any other linebacker in college football can do,” Leonard said. “Hopefully, that will boost my ranking up a little bit. Hopefully, be a higher draft pick somewhere.”

After the Senior Bowl, the draft trail will next take Leonard to the NFL Combine.

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