INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts selected much more than a productive linebacker with sideline-to-sideline quickness when they took Darius Leonard in the second round of this year's NFL Draft.
They acquired a ball of energy.
It's just what the doctor ordered for the Colts, who are making the transition to a 4-3 base defense that's going to be all about speed and intensity.
But just how much energy does Leonard bring to the field? Look no further than his nickname:
"I love to have fun, and I just want people to smile around me," Leonard told Colts.com this week. "I'm always screamin', I'm always just trying to have fun, try to bring the people up around me. So (I'm) just trying to be that great leader to help win."
The Colts got their initial up-close-and-personal look at Leonard's "maniac" ways last year, when area scout Jamie Moore attended an early morning practice at South Carolina State.
When Moore arrived to the school's facility around 5:30 a.m., he said he noticed one player "hootin' and hollerin', bringing all this energy" in the end zone. He quickly learned that player was Leonard.
Moore then attended one of Leonard's games, and saw the linebacker played just like he practiced.
"I was kind of like, lurking, so to speak, near the sideline — near their sideline — and just to see his mannerisms, his demeanor, how he communicated with his teammates, it kind of just confirmed what you saw at practice; that consistent, like, juice, energy level, which obviously we're looking for," Moore said. "We like to have guys that are not only athletic — you need physical traits — but lets get some guys in that have some juice that can bring the energy level up."
Leonard vowed to give everything he had to the game when he was passed over by every major college football program in his area when he was coming out of high school.
Clemson — where his half-brother, Anthony Waters, was a star linebacker in from 2005-06 — gave Leonard a chance to walk-on to its program, but that wasn't enough. Leonard instead chose to play at FCS school South Carolina State, which gave him his only actual scholarship offer.
"It fuels me a whole lot, man, because that was my dream. I mean, I watched my brother play there my whole life, and that's where I wanted to be at," Leonard said of Clemson. "And then when they kind of fell back a little bit and there was no other team who actually offered me except for South Carolina State, and I knew what I was capable of."
Leonard developed into a terror for the Bulldogs' defense. He finished his career as the school's all-time leader in tackles with 394, and twice was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. He parlayed that into a standout performance at the 2018 Senior Bowl.
Leonard said he's going to continue using that same fuel in Indianapolis that made him a special player at South Carolina State.
"When I talk about that chip, that is the biggest chip that I put on my shoulder, because I want to prove everybody wrong," he said. "So with Clemson not offering, I mean, it's still known to this day that I love Clemson dearly, but that chip is still on my shoulder because I'm down to prove everybody wrong."
With the Colts, Leonard could be a name to watch as a potential starter at the WILL linebacker position, where athleticism and speed are at a premium. Right now, however, Leonard — who earned his degree from South Carolina State this past weekend before flying to Indianapolis Saturday night for the final day of rookie minicamp — is focused on getting up to speed with defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and the rest of his veteran teammates.
What's his first impression of the Colts' defensive approach?
"This 4-3 defense, man, I feel like I'm going to love it, because it's like a spot-up defense," Leonard said. "So you're basically going to spot up and hit everything that moves."