Backup Role Doesn't Faze Leonard

Following linebacker Reed Williams' shoulder injury last season, then-sophomore Anthony Leonard was thrust into the Mountain State native's spot as his primary replacement. Although it took some adjusting, the opportunity allowed Leonard to get significant reps and earn his stripes on the Mountaineer defense.

With the return of Williams this year, Leonard's role has been reduced somewhat, and although he's taken a substantial cut in playing time, he's not disappointed.

"[Williams] is a great teacher," said Leonard of WVU's field-roving middle linebacker. "Even watching Reed, my vision kind of opened up for the game more because there's things that I see that he does that if I can add that to my game it would make me that much better of a player."

It looked as though history may repeat itself earlier in the season when Williams suffered an ankle injury in the Mountaineers' victory over East Carolina. When it was announced that the senior would be missing the Auburn game, Leonard saw his first minutes of the season where he had three tackles against the Tigers.

"Auburn was the first game that I played this season and it was very uncomfortable," said Leonard. "It was just hopping straight into it with a fiery SEC crowd. As the game went on, I started to get the feel for the speed again and it allowed me to play better. Knowing that I got reps last year and getting into conference play now, I think it's going to help me. I'm confident as ever."

Despite his cut in playing time, Leonard is making sure to make the most out of every play that he's a part of. There's a reason that every time No. 45 is in the game, he seems to always be part of the mound of players surrounding a tackle. In his limited action, he has five tackles, but has also been part of the swarming Mountaineer defense that is allowing opponents an average of just 2.6 yards per rushing play.

"It's just having a knack for the ball and understanding responsibilities," said Leonard. "[It's] just knowing where the ball is going to be. There's no real magic or secret to doing that."

Leonard realizes that, although the experience he got last year was an excellent opportunity, getting playing time like that does not often happen for an underclassmen. However, he seems alright with waiting.

"Every rep is big even for Reed because you never know what could happen," said Leonard. "Just going out there and making the best of whether it's one rep, two reps, or twelve reps you just have to make the best of it. Not only that but it gives the coaches confidence to be able to say ‘I know that I can put him in in certain situations.' I am not discouraged that I went from eighty reps to ten reps. I'm not discouraged at all because I'm still learning the defense. Who else out there is better to learn the defense from than playing behind Reed Williams?"

That attitude has helped Leonard make the most of this year. While some players might sulk at a turn of events that cut their time, Leonard's mature approach has allowed him to learn and become a better player. It will, no doubt, leave him better prepared for the future.

As the season is nearing the halfway point, Leonard must no doubt be thinking that soon Williams will graduate, leaving him in the same role that he occupied last year. Although he is no doubt ready to see more time on the field, for now, he knows his role and is working hard to take advantage of the chances he gets.

"I feel as though every player defines their role sometime during [fall] camp," said Leonard. "Obviously, I know my role. My role is to be a solid backup but also to be more of a learner than a teacher right now. If I am forced to change my role, I'm ready to accept that challenge but right now Reed is the chief and I'm just the Indian."

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