Gene Chizik momentarily paused twice while coaching a group of defensive backs on Tuesday to heap praise towards Florida Atlantic pledge Traivon Leonard.
“You’re a grinder man,” Chizik said. “I like that.”
“I want you,” Chizik later continued.
The compliments only made Leonard, a 6-foot, 170-pound cornerback from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Oxbridge Academy, push harder.
“It was a relief,” Leonard said. “Just to surprise Coach really meant a lot. After he said that, I wanted to work harder – I wanted to empty the gas tank.
“That was the best part of camp. I really loved that.”
Leonard has been firmly committed to nearby FAU since December. He chose to relax that commitment shortly after UNC offered him in early April.
“Knowing about their academics really made me want to get up there and see what it’s all about,” Leonard said. “I hear about it all the time from a friend who’s committed to UNC for lacrosse. He’s always telling me how great the school is. So, I wanted to go see it for myself.
“And I also had a comfort level with Coach [Charlton] Warren and Coach [Larry] Porter.”
With all that said, Leonard booked a three-day trip to UNC beginning on Monday. Much of that first day was spent getting to know the campus. He continued the touring on Wednesday, before catching a flight home.
“When I got there, they had my major ready,” Leonard said. “I want to major in journalism – like the broadcast side of it. We met with a professor.
“The school was beautiful and I haven’t even seen all of it – that was only like 40-percent of the school. I fell in love as soon as I got there. We didn’t even see the athletic side of it and I fell in love completely. The weather was great, too.”
For Leonard, much of Tuesday was spent on Navy Practice Field working under Chizik, UNC’s defensive coordinator.
“Coach Chizik, ‘Tough Guy’ – that’s what I call him,” Leonard joked. “He’s hard to be coached by. He will coach you hard and he will get on you. It’s like this silent demeanor that he has and I love it. I worked my butt off for him.”
After camp, Leonard met separately with Chizik, Larry Fedora, and Larry Porter, his primary recruiter.
“The big thing was: family, family, family,” Leonard said. “That’s all they preached. They were telling me, ‘When you get here, it’s like a family.’ I felt it – I was comfortable. I really didn’t want to go home.
“Coach Fedora told me how much he loves me as a player and a person. He said that if I did commit and I tore my ACL, he’d still have a scholarship for me. That meant a lot.”
Charlton Warren, UNC’s secondary coach, was absent for Leonard’s stay. Leonard was told that Warren was at a coaching workshop. To compensate, Leonard and Warren will speak over the phone on Thursday.