"I attended the Florida summer camp in July 2009. It was exciting. There was a lot of competition and I learned a lot. I decided to make a commitment to the coaches because they have always expressed interest in me ever since my ninth grade year," A.C. Leonard said.
"Now that I am in Jacksonville, they still come, so they have been there from the beginning. Coach Loeffler tells me all the time that he sees me as a CI or Hernandez. Coach Meyer once called me the 'Spearhead,' and I never forgot that. Both of these coaches are about business, and I am a very serious person when it comes to accomplishing goals. I also think Coach Strong is a great guy. The way he runs his defense, it lets me know he was given the correct name, 'Strong.'"
You can travel across the country and watch hundreds of prospects and you will not find one with as many physical tools as Leonard. At 6-3 and 229-pounds with 4.55 speed, 10 foot broad jump and an amazing 42-inch vertical the sky is the limit for this 2011 athlete. What position he plays at the next level remains to be seen.
Leonard will participate at the U.S. Army combine in January where he hopes to not only improve on those numbers but get an official 185-pound rep count.
Leonard, who has gone somewhat under the radar at this time will be one of the most heavily recruited athletes in the nation before it's all said and done.
The Florida Gators and head coach Urban Meyer have been on an incredible run both on and off the field and the nation's top prospects are taking notice. The Gators have built something special and there is a large contingency of prospects that would love a chance to start their own tradition in Gainesville. The 6-0 and 180-pound Deland (FL) superstar Pop Saunders was the first to jump on board for the class of 2011 and Leonard is very familiar with Pop.
"For me it is about continuing the tradition. I check in on UF's new recruits all the time, and I think they are doing a great job of building a future team. 'Pop' is 'for real.' I know from playing him on the AAU basketball circuit, but he is an exceptional athlete. You add all the other great recruits in the 2010 class, and I know we can carry the torch respectively."
"Calling The Swamp home will be an exciting day. The coaches at UF have been with me since the beginning, and the day I call The Swamp home will allow me to show them my commitment and continue UF's winning tradition. UF is well respected, athletically and academically. Plus, calling The Swamp home would allow me to grow my skills as a player and play against other strong competition.
"I am definitely committed to UF and look forward to the day I sign. Right now, I'm just focused on graduating high school and preparing for next season. I respect Pop a lot. We definitely share a commonality in our desire to attend UF."
When you have the ability that Leonard has it's no wonder he has lined up all over the field ever since his ninth grade season. He ended his freshman campaign with six receiving touchdowns from the wide receiver position. During his 10th grade season he played safety and wide receiver. He finished with five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), two receiving touchdowns and scored three more touchdowns on punt returns.
If that wasn't enough, Leonard had a monster season this past year. He played linebacker, defensive end, wide receiver, tight end and even running back. Leonard once again filled the stat sheet week in and week out. He added three receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, 21 sacks, roughly 60 tackles, 10 for a loss, 10 quarterback hurries, two blocked punts, one blocked extra point, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
With his 11th grade season complete, Leonard talked about his goal for his final season of high school football.
"I want to do whatever it takes to win a district title and compete in state. I enjoy playing on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side, however, I think this year they will need me to play more offense."
The mark of a true team player is one that does whatever is asked of him and whatever his team needs him to do. Leonard could be the best linebacker, defensive end or tight end in the state of Florida for the class of 2011 if he was able to concentrate on that position. Instead he plays them all including wide receiver to help put his team in position to have the best chance for success.
"I understand God gives everyone gifts. When I'm on the field, whether offense or defense, I try to concentrate on having fun and focus on playing to the best of my ability to help my team win. When Coach Flynn asked me to play linebacker/defensive end, I set a personal goal to lead Jacksonville in sacks. I think I did that. I am still learning different pass rushing moves, but I think my speed makes me one of the fastest linebacker/defensive ends out there. Ultimately, I am just excited to make it to the next level. I am a team player and I like having the versatility of playing offense or defense. I could probably narrow down my options to tight end, defensive end or linebacker."
All the great ones have "it" - that unquestioned ability to rise to the top when their team needs them most. When it matters most the great ones find a way to produce a big play and take more pleasure in helping the team than personal accolades and Leonard is a great one.
"When it comes to passion for the game, I get pleasure in making big plays for the team. If we need a big play, and I get a sack or a touchdown, I want the guys around me to know, 'We all did that.' I would consider myself a lead by example player. When the team needs a big play, I don't sit back and wait for others to make a play, I step up to make a big play to help us win."
Leonard has been to Florida five times including this weekend's game against Florida State. He has also visited Miami, Florida State and Central Florida. Even though he just finished his junior season, Leonard has become very familiar with many recruits and often speaks with them about the recruiting process.
"Keyshawn Hamilton and Kion Williams grew up with me, so I know them pretty well. Since moving to Jacksonville, I have come to know Louis Nix and Tavadis Glenn. During our bye week, I went and checked out Demetre Baker; then the next day at the UF game, we talked a lot about the recruiting process. And of course, playing with Bell, who is an electrifying receiver, has been great because he allows me to see the recruiting process up close and personal. Another recruit, I talk to some is Javon Thomas. He is a lineman for OP, so we talk a lot about the process and life in the trenches. I also text my Godbrother Shontrell Johnson, who plays for Deland. We also talk about the recruiting process."
Leonard started playing football at a young age in when he played quarterback in Pop Warner. That year he threw for three touchdowns in one game and led his team to a win. Recently, he made it to the playoffs with his current Ribault High School Trojans, his first taste of postseason play.
Katina Boyd and Al Leonard are the proud parents of the newest member of the Gator Nation. Leonard has three sisters, Charraffyia, Quanteri and Aszura.
To truly get to know Leonard you first must understand those closest to him, those fortunate few he calls "family."
"I maintain relationship with my family (mom/dad); however, while residing in Jacksonville, I share residence between my legal guardian, Todd Chandler and my godparents Ronald and Angela Milligan. Mr. Todd provides me support and acts like a mentor while living here in Jacksonville. Likewise, my godparents also provide support and help teach me life skills."
Leonard's family spoke about his decision and took time to reflect on his football career.
"I remember when A.C. used to play flag football, recalls Quanteri Leonard, A.C.'s sister. He was one of the best on the team. He loved scoring touchdowns and making tackles even though he wasn't supposed to tackle in flag football. I've always enjoyed watching him play and still do."
"A.C.'s commitment to the sport is strong. His ability to switch from offense to defense is impressive," said Todd Chandler, legal guardian for Leonard while residing in Jacksonville. "As part of the Gator Nation, A.C. will continue to develop and become an essential contributor to the school's program."
"Traditionally a basketball fan, A.C. has really opened my eyes and helped me gain a love for football. He's a very dynamic player. To see him wake up each morning at 6 a.m. to gain rapport with his new quarterbacks showed his commitment to his craft and the team. Then to see him make a catch, get hit by multiple defenders and emerge from the pack to score provides the reward for the hard work. As well, his desire to help the team by playing LB/DE really showed a lot about his character. Watching him drive for sack after sack is exciting, and every time I am amazed. He is an all around player that will truly add value to Meyer and the Gator family. I am just proud of him for following his dreams and working hard."
"I'm always harping on A.C. about academics. But I must admit, the first time I saw him play football, I realized he possessed a very special ability on the field. Some of the plays he makes make me just smile and say 'Wow.' Then, when you speak to him about football, you can see everything in him light up. I am happy he has found something he can excel at and that also makes him happy."
It is undeniable the amount of talent that Leonard possesses on either side of the ball. Regardless of where he lines up, defensive end, linebacker or tight end he excels week in and week out for Ribault High School. The Gators do a better job than most in America in not only recruiting but landing multi-talented athletes that can come in and contribute where needed most. The question will be asked 1,000 times between now and National Signing Day 2011, Where will A.C. play once he gets to Florida? Only time will tell. For now take comfort in knowing that one of the premier athletes in the class of 2011 is part of the Gator Nation and he and his entire family couldn't be happier about the decision.
A.C. Leonard Says YES to the Gators
Fightin Gators Top Stories
Hard work and mechanical change for HillFlorida point guard Kasey Hill spent most of the last two seasons struggling shooting the ball and then tournament time last season it seemed like a light went on. His entire game…
Fightin GatorsYesterday at 11:23 PM
Reyes ready for a full year opportunityFlorida sophomore outfielder Danny Reyes played in just 24 games a year ago. When he finally got to play he started strong, but didn’t finish quite like he wanted. Now he is ready…
Fightin GatorsYesterday at 8:51 AM
Gators Coaches on the Road AgainThe Florida staff is once again on the road on Friday. The Gators will check in on several targets in South Florida.
Fightin GatorsYesterday at 7:00 AM
Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Oct. 21A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning...
Fightin GatorsThursday at 10:25 PM