RECRUITING: Leonard rehab ahead of schedule

<b>ADAM LEONARD</b> had 90 tackles last season from his linebacker spot. The 6-1 220-pound athlete had over 500 yards receiving and scored 10 touchdowns as a junior. He is the two time Metro league Sound Division defensive player of the year. So why aren't schools tripping all over themselves to recruit the star athlete?

Because an injury wiped out nearly all of Adam Leonard's entire senior season. As a result, some schools have backed off the Rainier Beach star. One school recently told Leonard not to put all of his eggs in their basket because they weren't sure they'd have a spot for him. And Leonard understands that.

"I understand where they're coming from," said Leonard. "It's a business and if they're going to invest in someone, they want them to be good, to not have (uncertainty due to injury.")

Another school however didn't deliver the message nearly as adroitly.. Leonard called the coach who had been recruiting him and the conversation was all positive, the coach telling Leonard he wanted him to come down and play for them. The next day a letter arrived from the coach, mailed previous to the phone conversation, informing the linebacker they would not have a scholarship for him.

"That didn't sit too well with me," said Leonard.

Leonard holds a scholarship offer from Duke (leader) and will trip to the school Dec 10. Meanwhile, he is taking a wait and see approach if any other schools will jump into the mix.

"It's just making me better, mentally and physically" said Leonard of the recruiting process. "If they put me behind (others) that means I've got to go forward, so I'll just need to work that much harder...I know others have a head start but its not where you start, its where you finish."

His top schools are Duke, and then in no particular order, Washington State, Stanford, Cal, Oregon State. With close friend and teammate Shelton Danzy already having having made an oral commitment to WSU, Leonard is taking a wait and see approach on the Cougs.

"I just recently sent them up some film. They're evaluating it and I'm waiting to see what goes on with that. A lot of the schools are just kind of talking right now."

Leonard says the school who ends up signing him on LOI day is going to be getting a playmaker, and a determined one at that..

"As soon as I get to college, as soon as I get to that level, I'm looking forward to letting everyone see how gifted I am."

LIKE A BALLCARRIER trying to make the corner, rehab is something Leonard will be attacking. He'll exercise patience, but he's going to attack it nonetheless.

"I know I have to go through it, but that's just going to make me stronger and hungrier."

This past spring and summer, Leonard wasn't able to attend the camps and combines like so many juniors and underclassmen. He was rehabbing from having his knee scoped.

Leonard was determined to make up for lost time at the start of this season. In his first two games, he tallied 20-plus tackles, an interception and a couple touchdown receptions. On the first drive of the game in Week 3, he crushed the Liberty ball carrier - a tremendous collision which sent the player's helmet flying, stopping him in his tracks.

But Leonard's foot was planted in the turf, and a player fell into him. There was no opportunity for the leg to give, and his knee bore the brunt of the force. Not the knee he had worked so hard to rehab during the offseason. His other knee.

"I was trying to be optimistic," said Leonard of the play's immediate aftermath. "But I knew something was wrong."

ON THE SIDELINE, the Rainier Beach (8-1, 5-0) staff tended to Leonard, taking him through a series of tests and later wrapping the knee in ice. The star linebacker missed nearly the entire game, a game that remains the lone blemish on the Vikings record this season. Incredibly, Leonard actually returned late in the fourth quarter until the coaches pulled him out again.

"I just wanted to play. In my mind, I was saying 'I'm alright, I'm alright'. I had a little bit of pain but I passed all the tests and it was a close game...I made a couple plays but engaging in contact, I couldn't really get much push."

"After the game, that's when I knew something was really wrong. It was painful and it swelled up bad."

Later at the hospital after the swelling had gone down, the MRI indicated a partially torn ACL. But when the doctors went in, they found the ligament to be completely torn. Rainier Beach would have to play the rest of the season without one of their team captains, without their leader on defense.

THE TIMETABLE for Leonard's return to football action is six to seven months from when he had his surgery in early October. Seven months would point to May, a few months before a college's fall camp. He's currently ahead of schedule.

"The scar looks great," Leonard said this week with a laugh. "I'm ahead of schedule. They've got me on the bike three weeks early."

When he gets to fall camp, he plans on making an impact. Some of Leonard's strengths include his ability in reading an offense, and being able to make plays from sideline to sideline. Leonard feels he'll be just as capable in those areas as he was before the injury.

"I feel nobody really knows how fast I am. I'll get to that sideline just as fast or faster than the next guy."

But his physicality might be one of his greatest assets.

"Hey," he laughed. "It's legal to hit folks out there...That's what the equipment's for, you better use it."

ALTHOUGH NOT ON THE FIELD, Leonard continues to make a substantial contribution to his Rainier Beach team. He patrols the sidelines, carefully watching the opposing offense, picking up their tendencies, relaying information to the guys on the field. He's also learning himself, picking up things that will benefit him down the road as a player upon his return to the gridiron.

But for now his role continues to be, in effect, acting as another coach for the Vikings. Its one that fits him well.

"That's what they call me now," he laughed. "They call me 'Coach'. The whole team knows they can come to me, no matter what position they play, (and I tell them) what I think about this and that."

The defense for Rainier Beach has stepped up their play in Leonard's absence, nobody is waiting around for anyone else. But the team hasn't forgotten the contribution Leonard made on the field, nor the one he continues to make from the sidelines.

After Rainier Beach defeated O'Dea, for the first time since 2001, to capture the Metro League title this past Friday, the team as a whole presented the trophy to Adam Leonard.

"Matter of fact, I'm looking at it right now," said Leonard, a smile in his voice. "They all know how bad I want to play."

Come next fall, some college will know that too.

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