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Rejected College Recruit Motivated into NFL Standout

Darius Leonard has practiced the pivot from feeling disrespected to feeling motivated and being at peace. It’s a pivot he’s done plenty of times since his arrival into the NFL. “I’m used to it,” Leonard says. “I’ve been underestimated since high school.”

The Indianapolis Colts drafted Leonard with the fourth pick of the second round, and he was given, at best, a mixed reception by critics. And not only wasn’t he highly touted as a draft pick, but even in college, Leonard failed to garner the respect he thought he was due. Growing up in rural South Carolina, Leonard was a diehard Clemson Tigers fan, and Clemson was the only school he expressed interest in. But when his qualifying SAT scores were delayed, Leonard found that the scholarship that had been promised to him was instead given to someone else.

Instead, Leonard attended the less prestigious South Carolina State, where he was initially disappointed by the smaller campus and facilities. But he was able to turn that disappointment into motivation. "I was just grateful for the opportunity to play at that level," he said. "I went in with a chip on my shoulder to prove that I could play."

Eventually, Leonard became a standout defender for the SC State Bulldogs, and he showed his playmaking ability when his team went up against his long beloved Clemson Tigers. Even though his team lost in a blowout, Leonard still had 19 tackles and a blocked field goal.

This performance made all the NFL scouts take notice. And seven weeks into the current NFL season, Leonard’s had a league-high 79 tackles and is garnering potential Defensive Rookie of the Year buzz. He even goes by a nickname: “Maniac.”

"I always look for things to fuel me," Leonard said, to a reporter whose publication had poorly rated him as a draft pick. “It just gave me a burning fire in my heart again to prove everybody wrong. I appreciate y'all.”

Potential Preaching Angles:

The one who was despised and rejected became the one exalted and honored before everyone.


Mike Tanier, “‘Maniac’ Darius Leonard Has Gone from Clemson Castoff to Rookie NFL Sensation” Bleacher Report (10-26-18)

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