If you have been a Bengals fan during any of the past three seasons, you have been at least slightly impacted by Bengals running back Brian Leonard. Leonard has mainly been the Bengals third -down back for the past three seasons, but he has made impact plays. Many of you may also know Leonard from his glorified "Leonard leap". Bengal fans know that Leonard can play the game, but many do not know what he has done off of the field and in the community. Leonard might be in jeopardy of getting cut before the season begins. This could happen if the Bengals draft a back early in the upcoming draft. This is the (brief) story of Brian Leonard.
Family and football dreams: Leonard's has one sibling, a brother named Nate. Nate is three years older than Brian. The Leonard's grew up 30 miles from the Canadian border, in Gouverneur, New York. They both grew up loving football. One dream that the brothers had was to play on the same football field. Although Nate is older, Brian's talent had him on the field early. The thought was that they would play together when Nate was in his final year of high school, or if they went to the same college to play. Unfortunately, Nate tore his ACL and MCL during the third game of his senior season. The dream of playing together in high school was over, but there was still college football. Nate hurt himself again during his freshman season at Rutgers. He dislocated his left shoulder twice and. He still came back to play during his sophomore year, and the injury bug struck yet again. During his fourth game, Nate once again tore his ACL, this time in his opposite knee. He hurt that knee again as a junior and was forced to put an end to his football career. The dreams of the brothers to play together were dashed.
College: Brian was heavily recruited out of high school, far more than Nate. Nate's only ACC or Big East offer came from Rutgers after he had hurt his knee the first time. Brian was recruited by schools like Penn State, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. He decided to follow his brother and attend Rutgers, despite the teams struggles. Brian saw this as an opportunity to thank Rutgers for everything it had done for his brother. Brian also wanted to be there for his brother, who was struggling with being depressed without football. Leonard had early success with Rutgers, as he made the freshman All-American team and also won the College Football News Big East Freshman of the Year award. Leonard improved during his sophomore year. He was First Team All-Big East and also First Team Pro Football Weekly All-American. During his junior year, Leonard once again put up a great season. He was once again First Team All-Big East and on Pro Football Weekly's All-American team.
Leonard also considered entering the draft after his junior season. He was concerned that scouts would look at him poorly if his stats dropped. Also, running back Ray Rice was about to become the feature back for the team. Leonard decided to stay and take on what seemed to be a lesser role with the team. It was a good decision for Leonard. He learned to play fullback and showed that he could be among the most versatile backs in college football. With Rice becoming a focal point of the offense, Leonard's stats dropped. His rushing yards went from 740 as a junior to 423 as a senior. His receptions fell from 55 to 38 and his touchdowns went from 11 to five. Quite possibly the most important stat from college for Leonard was his 3.3 GPA. Leonard was a Labor and Employment Relations major. He also won the ARA Sportsmanship Award during his senior season.
Rams career: Leonard was timed running a 4.49 forty at the combine, best among fullbacks, and led all running backs with 28 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press. An impressive combine and Leonard's versatility got him drafted with the 52nd overall pick in the draft. Leonard was the St. Louis Rams second round draft choice. The Rams coach at the time was Scott Linehan. Linehan decided to use Leonard as a running back, fullback, and third-down back, in relief of star running back Steven Jackson. Leonard played sparingly during his rookie season, but his first 100 yard game of his career came on October 7th, 2007, against Arizona. Leonard had shoulder surgery at the end of his rookie season. Leonard's second season was marred by injuries and many were beginning to think that Leonard may be a bust.
Bengals career: In May of 2009, Leonard was traded to the Bengals for defensive tackle Orien Harris. Leonard was not assured of a roster spot, but he ended up making the team. This ended up being a productive trade for the Bengals, as Leonard helped them go 10-6 and sweep the division, in route to a division title. The play that I remember the most is the game on September 27th in Cincinnati against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals were behind early and had to comeback in order to get into the game. Carson Palmer and the Bengals were driving, and it was fourth down. I remember being incredibly nervous as I watched the game from the friendly confines of the Phi Kappa Psi house. It was fourth and ten from the Steelers 15 yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining. Palmer was heavily pressured and he dumped the ball off to Leonard. Leonard eluded a tackler and just barely picked up the first down. The Bengals ended up winning and I went completely crazy in front of my fraternity brothers. Brian Leonard's play may have saved the Bengals season, and it was only week three. The win showed that the Bengals might actually be for real, and it made many fans believers. Leonard continued to make plays during the 2009 season, He has struggled with injuries recently, but when healthy, Leonard is still converting third downs into first downs.
Off the field- This may actually be Leonard's greatest attribute. Leonard started the Brian Leonard Football Camp in 2009. The event is held annually at The State University of New York at Postdam. In 2006, Leonard was named as Peter King's candidate for Sportsman of the Year. Leonard also won the Draddy Trophy in December of 2006. This trophy recognizes the best player in the country for their on field play, academics, and community leadership. Leonard has also been a volunteer for the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics in New Jersey. He has participated in "Read Across America" and The American Cancer Societies "Relay For Life", among others.
There are certainly bigger talents at the running back position, but Leonard may have the biggest heart. I am hoping that Leonard is once again on the Bengals squad this season. If healthy, he can certainly cut it as our third-down back. Do not get me wrong, I am not against taking a Doug Martin or David Wilson. I am also not saying that Bernard Scott or special teams stud Cedric Peerman should lose their job. I believe that there should be a place on the roster for Leonard. One thing is for sure, he is one guy I would not bet against.