INDIANAPOLIS — No one would’ve blinked if Darius Leonard had gone down the wrong path as a kid.
With two brothers in prison for murder and another brother killed back in 2012, Leonard could’ve very easily used that as excuse to make all the wrong decisions growing up.
Instead, he used it as fuel to do everything the right way.
Tonight was Colts Productions’ first edition of its new series “Colts Life,” which takes you to Leonard’s hometown of Lake View, S.C., to get a terrific perspective of where the 2018 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year got his start — and how he’ll never forget where home really is.
If you missed out on this episode, you catch it right here:
Here are some highlights:
» Lake View, S.C., had a population of just 783 at the 2016 census. Leonard said growing up in such a small community had its ups and downs. “Lake View is a very small town where everybody knows everybody,” he said. “Just know you can’t keep no secrets in Lake View. If you did anything wrong or anything right, by the time you got home at night your mom or anybody, they knew everything about it.”
» Oh, and the name of the town, “Lake View?” Well, there’s no lake. “You would think that we would have a lake,” Leonard said. “We have a pond — a big ol’ mill pond that looks like a lake.”
» Want to get your mouth watering? Head to the Four Points restaurant, which features “Meals, Drinks, Snacks, Shakes” on its sign. But Leonard has been going to this joint for years for one reason: double cheeseburgers. “When you go to any other restaurant, they have this small little burger. And you come here and you get a double cheeseburger around that big. So a lot of people don’t eat it in one sitting. I can eat maybe two of ‘em,” he brags. “(This was) everybody’s go-to after school. Usually it’d be a double cheeseburger before a football game — just sittin’ around. So we’ve got a lot of history behind double cheeseburgers here.”
» Want to know where Leonard gets his quickness and fearlessness on the football field? Look no further than his ability to chase cows and horses around in his hometown. “This is where all the fun stuff happens. Chasing cows is where I get all my athleticism from. Every time the cows get out they’ll call me because that’s something I love doin’,” he says. “When one gets out there’s, like, eight of ‘em. So you’ve gotta be very quick, have good instincts to kind of make sure everybody goes the same way. Can’t have ‘em split up. So you’ve gotta be quick. So I think about it as playing linebacker. You’ve gotta stay in front of that cow to make sure it turns back around and lead it to the right direction to get back in the cage. So just like that running back coming at me, I want to keep him in front of me, pin his hip and make sure he goes backwards instead of forwards. … If I can stand in front of a cow or one of these horses, I can stand in front of the running backs.”
» Leonard visits his old high school football field, where one painful, lasting memory comes to mind. “I ended my senior year on this field. Up by 21 in the fourth quarter, and lost by one. You know what play sticks out the most? They went for two, right here. They ran the quarterback sweep — quarterback sweep to my side. I come up to make the tackle; I get stiff armed, they win the ballgame. That’s my only memory about that game. And I said I do not want to feel that pain anymore; I don’t want to miss anymore tackles. So I got a little stronger, got a little bigger. … It kind of opened my eyes a little bit; made my realize that I’m not as good as I thought I was,” Leonard recalls.
» Oh, and that chip on Leonard’s shoulder? It started in Lake View, too. “I’ma tell you the real changing point in my life,” he says. “I was playing baseball, and I was hitting in the cage — I was doing some extra work; just trying to get better. And I had one of the coaches come up to me and he looked at me and he said, ‘Son, your dad was good — and he was fast. What the hell happened to you?’ And ever since then, I said I would never hear those words again. And it just pushed me to never fail.”
» As previously mentioned, Leonard had to endure all kinds of bumps in the road when it came to his family as he grew up in Lake View. But he ultimately turned tragic circumstances into positive results. “When I was growing up everybody said I was going to follow their path; I was going to do all the wrong things,” Leonard said of his brothers. “Once that I figured out that that wasn’t a route that I wanted to take, everybody noticed that I was making all the right decisions. It’s so easy to fall in the trap that everybody else fell in, but I chose not to.”
» Those efforts by Leonard weren’t lost on his high school football coach, Daryl King: “You know, on a Friday night when everybody else might be out at a party, and he’s up there lifting weights or he’s running or he’s watching film. Different things like that; it just made him who he is. He wanted to be great. I mean, he had that drive, that passion. That’s what separates the ones who want to be good and the ones who really want to be great, what they do when they don’t have to be doing it.”
» You’re also invited along as Leonard is presented with the key to the city in a ceremony at the Lake View Community Center. Leonard’s other brother, Anthony Waters — one of his biggest role models who also had a three-year NFL career as a linebacker with the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills — spoke to the gathered crowd about just how proud he was of his little brother: “This whole year is truly and really — it meant a lot to me. It was a blessing, and, man, I’m just proud of you, and I love you, man. Like I said, I love everything you stand for, not only as a football player, but the way you care for your family and the way you got everybody behind your back, the way that you care for your wife, man, I appreciate you. I love you.”
» Said Leonard, after receiving the key to the city: “This town means so, so much to me. And everybody wonders why Darius ain’t out of town? Why everytime he’s got a chance to come home, he comes home? Because this is what made me. This is what made me who I am. … I’ma come back and continue to give back to my community, ‘cause I’m not just playing for myself, not just playing for my family, but I’m playing for this whole community. And I’d like to thank the Lake View community for making me who I am.”