Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is entering his third NFL season as a star on the rise. He tackled some tough questions from New York Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: You lost one brother Keivonte, (following an altercation eight years ago), and two older brothers (Charlie and Cody) are incarcerated for murder. How often do you speak to them?
A: I speak to them all the time. They’re still a part of me, no matter what they did or anything, they’re still blood, I speak to ‘em almost every week, making sure they’re good, I’m good, making sure that they know that they’re still loved, and vice versa.
Q: Are they motivation for you in any way?
A: My oldest brother, he writes me a letter every week, every game, just about the game, what I could do, and how he looks up to me, which is crazy that he’s about 15 or 20 years older than me, but he looks up to me and just trying to tell me that he’s proud of me. I could have ended up the same place that he’s at. The same thing with my other brother, every time he calls he says, “Just keep pushing no matter what.” They’re both incarcerated, but they look at life a little differently. They’re always saying keep God first. Just making sure that if they can keep their head on straight in prison and stuff like that, I can do the same thing outside of here; that just motivates me to just keep going, for not just me, but for them and my family.
Q: The Black Lives Matter movement.
A: As of right now, it’s a lot of talk. It doesn’t really mean nothing unless you see a lot of action behind it.
Q: Does it sadden you that it’s taken this long for the country to wake up?
A: It sucks. I’ve been through a lot and seen a lot. Just thinking about it from a football perspective, that if I’m playing linebacker, I’m gonna see things from a linebacker perspective. But if people open up lens and stop just looking at yourself, and look at all the people around you, then you can see the whole picture, but a lot of people don’t see the whole picture because they live in their bubble. And once you hear the stories that we have, then you can understand, or feel the pain that we’re feeling. Yeah it sucks, but I’m just glad we’re moving in the right direction right now.
Q: When you were a kid, what examples of racism did you experience?
A: I can go all day. I mean, just going into a store, and they hit the buzzer and security goes to follow me around. Or if you’re in the elevator, having a white lady or some other person come in there and they’re squeezing their pocketbook real tight. Or just last year, walking around in my community, I pay the same amount of money that everybody else pays for in the neighborhood, I’m getting the stares when I walk my daughter around walking down the street, and I see kids playing basketball and then once I get close up on ‘em they go in the house, then I go past ‘em, they come back outside. The first thing is to acknowledge it. A lot of people won’t acknowledge it. Right now we gotta acknowledge it and move forward with the problem.
Q: Who gave you the nickname “The Maniac?”
A: That is a good question. I don’t know exactly who, but once they said it, it kinda stuck. It was actually after the Clemson game in 2018 (19 tackles).
Q: Your on-field mentality.
A: I’m a competitor, I hate losing. Try to make every single play no matter where is the ball. I just got that drive, just drive to be the best. I want every ounce of pressure on my shoulders, I want to be there for the team. You gotta be crazy out there, you gotta let them know that they can trust you and that you’re not afraid to make a big play, you’re not afraid in the fourth quarter and it’s fourth down, and you’re out there in the slot with a Pro Bowl receiver, you can’t flinch and you gotta be able to make that play for your team.
Q: Your daughter is 15 months old. How is fatherhood?
A: It’s amazing. Just coming home day-in and day-out, and she’s the first one to meet you, running out, want to hug. Just her beautiful eyes, her personality’s amazing. It’s indescribable.
Q: Do you keep track of the linebackers who were drafted ahead of you?
A: (Laugh) I do sometimes. Only when I’m about to play against ‘em. That’s when I’m trying to prove that, OK, let’s show this team why they should have picked me instead of him. It’s a competitive thing. If you’re not first, you’re last, and I wasn’t the first linebacker on the board so I was the last linebacker on the board, so I feel like it was a slap in my face.
Q: You could pick the brain of any linebacker in NFL history.
A: Derrick Brooks. He played in the Tampa 2 Will position. My game is definitely similar like his, making plays in space, coming downhill. Just try to learn from him, what he sees, how he’d get all those picks, and stuff like that.
Q: You could be 1-on-1 with any running back in history.
A: Reggie Bush in his prime. I grew up a big Reggie Bush fan. Reggie in space, he was definitely dangerous. If I make that play, it doesn’t just mean a lot to my teammates, but it would mean a whole lot to me.
Q: Personal goals.
A: Make Player of the Year, make MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 15 sacks, 10 interceptions — I have a lot of ‘em.
Q: You didn’t mention 200 tackles.
A: That’s already up there (laugh). You already knew it. I say it every year ‘til I reach it. When I reach it, I gotta go 250.
Q: Philip Rivers.
A: He’s been doing this for 17 years, so you could imagine all the checks at the line, everything that he knows. He’s a great leader, and hopefully he can lead us to successful.
Q: DeForest Buckner.
A: He’s a very huge guy. but he’s very athletic for his size. I think he’ll have a big impact on the defense this year. With a big guy like that upfront, us linebackers and us DBs, we definitely love that, allow us to go around just make more plays.
Q: Is Quenton Nelson’s mentality on the field similar to yours?
A: Yes. But Quenton is a little different (laugh). He wants to kill you. His mentality is, “You’re not gonna make the play, and you’re not gonna be close enough to make the play.”
Q: Frank Reich.
A: He’s still a student of the game. He played it, he knows exactly how we feel. He don’t raise his voice, he knows how to talk to his team, he knows how to control his team. He’s
Q: What do you like best about this Colts team?
A: We’re a selfless team. We have so many players who will risk their body for their teammate to make the play, and that’s something that you really need. We hustle, all 11, especially defensively. We tackle well. We’ll be a good tackling defense when our corners tackle, so that’s something that we take pride in, all 11 guys hustling to the ball, al 11 guys tackling.
Q: How much film do you study each night?
A: (Laugh) In all honesty? None. I don’t even turn on my iPad on that is issued by the coach. I did my rookie season, my first game, I was playing against the Bengals, and I had absolutely everything that they were doing, I watched endless hours of film, I had everything on my white board of what they were doing, I got in the game, I started playing slow, I was overthinking. So then the second game, I was like, “You know what? I’m not gonna watch any film, I’m gonna trust my keys, I’m gonna trust what the coaches are telling me, and then I went in, ended with 19 tackles and a sack and a forced fumble. So I stayed away from the film and just taking every rep in practice and every walkthrough reps, so by the time I get to the game, I’ve seen that one play 15 and 20-30 times. I feel like the more I react, the quicker I react, the better I play, and if I think, then I’m guessing, and I don’t want to do that.
Q: Why do you call yourself “Mr. Highflyer 10?”
A: Because I used to dunk on everybody. I felt like I could out-jump anybody.
Q: What quarterback do you want to sack that you haven’t sacked?
A: Drew Brees, just because I looked up to him growing up, I grew up a Saints fan.
Q: Three dinner guests.
A: Kobe Bryant; Muhammad Ali; Mike Vick.
Q: Favorite movie.
Q: Favorite actor.
A: Chris Tucker.
Q: Favorite actress.
A: Meagan Good.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer.
A: Mariah Carey.
Q: Favorite meal.
A: Neck bone and rice.