Leonard tackles history, prepares for new heights

 Cody Leonard had a record-setting Senior season.

He was a unanimous Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) first-team selection and was named the GLVC Defensive Player of the Year.

Within the GLVC, the closest defender in terms of total tackles was 66 stops behind Leonard.

Leonard’s 168 tackles broke the single-season GLVC record. This was a mark that was previously set by McKendree’s A.J. Wentland with 145 stops in 2016.

Leonard averaged 15.3 tackles per game, which was also a league record. This mark was previously held by Wentland with 13.5 set in 2015.

Leonard’s 376 career tackles lands him fourth all-time in GLVC history, while his 88 solo stops and 223 solo tackles were Quincy single-season and career records, respectively.

Leonard is the first Hawk to ever win GLVC Defensive Player of the Year, and this is the first time a Hawk won a major award from the GLVC since Chris Harris was named Freshman of the Year in 2014.

Leonard had more than 10 tackles in every game this season, where the Hawks posted a record of 4-7, a one-win improvement from a year ago. 

 Leonard’s final game with the Hawks was his best. He had a career-high 24 tackles, which is a GLVC single game record, in the Hawks 24-21 win over Southwest Baptist on Senior Day. 

Not only leading the conference, but Leonard led all of NCAA DII in tackles and solo tackles. His 168 tackles were 34 more than Dominic Cizauskas, who had the second most tackles in the country.

Leonard was nominated for the Harlon Hill award, which is given annually to the Division II College Football Player of the Year. Leonard is among only 37 players who were nominated, and only four of which were defensive players. 

Leonard is third all-time on the NCAA Division II Active List Leaders, and 12th All-Time in All of NCAA history (FBS, FCS, II, III) with 376 career tackles. 

Leonard is the first Quincy University football player to be an all-American.

Leonard has many record-breaking numbers and accolades, but the most impressive thing may be something he registered a zero in, games missed.

“Weightlifting and stretching have really helped me stay injury-free over my 4 years,” Leonard, who never missed a game, explained.

Leonard went from 192 pounds his freshman season to 225 pounds his senior season.

Leonard said that the accolades he has received have been confirmation of his hard work, but he still wasn’t content with his team’s performance since the Hawks never had a winning record in his career. The closest the Hawks came was in 2016, when they went 5-6.

Where did his passion to play football come from? In the first grade where he went to watch the local high school team play in his hometown, Carrollton, Illinois. Football has helped Leonard learn important skills for other aspects of his life.

“Football has taught me most of what I know now,” Leonard said. “Competitive leadership, especially this year I was a captain for us I had to really step my leadership up on the team.” 

Leonard has reached great heights on the football field. However, dominance on the football field was not always the case for the all-American linebacker.

Leonard rarely saw any time his freshman year on defense. He was primarily used for special teams, only recording 20 tackles. 

Leonard only saw time in the starting lineup towards the end of his freshman season because the Hawks had a lot of injuries to defensive starters. 

This is the special aspect of Leonard’s story: growth. Not only growing two inches and 33 pounds. Leonard’s performance got better every single year. After his freshman season, Leonard led the Hawks in tackles, and the year after that, and the year after that.

Not only did he lead the team, but he also improved on his marks each year.

Leonard’s tackling numbers were 20, 78, 110, 168 throughout his four years, respectively.

Furthermore, Leonard tells aspiring Hawks advice he has for them, and a sense of reality for young players.

“Most times coming in as a young kid your probably not going to play right away,” Leonard said “I didn’t, I was a  travel guy, but I didn’t really play on defense much until the end of the year that year because we had a good amount of injuries.”

Leonard will be continuing to train to give himself a chance to make his dream of playing professionally a reality.

Leonard will be playing in bowl games this coming month.

Leonard said playing professionally would mean a lot to him coming from a small town and small university. He also says that it would help put the QU football program on the map

With the season over, Leonard now has more free time. He is trying to use that time to the best of his ability, to continue to put his effort into school, and football.

It’s no coincidence that someone who garnered 376 total career tackles enjoys the physicality of the sport.

“I like the physical aspect of it.” Leonard said. “It’s a good way for me to release on my emotions and just have fun and be myself out there.”

How was Leonard able to do this?

Leonard was a middle linebacker, and he usually doesn’t have a designated gap to fill. Being a free-roaming player has helped him.  Also, the pressure applied by the defensive line helped Leonard. Leonard had three honorable mentions all-conference players on the defensive line who applied pressure on the opposing team’s offense. This allowed Leonard to be in the correct locations, and made the tackling assignments easier to find. 

“I never would have thought that I’d be a guy in the record books,” Leonard  explained.

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