Leonard glue on West Virginia's defense

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There will never be a statue of Anthony Leonard outside Mountaineer Field.

A street won't bear his name; he won't be inducted into WVU's hall of fame.

The influence Leonard has had on the Mountaineers' program is immeasurable.

Leonard, a 6-foot-1, 246-pound senior linebacker from Mc-Keesport, is one of those binding agents all good college football programs need: a guy who shows up, performs his duties, pulls himself off the turf and keeps going.

He has had good results.

Leonard will play in his 35th career game for West Virginia (3-1) Saturday when the Mountaineers host UNLV (1-4). He is his team's leading tackler this season with 27 and leads his squad with 3.5 tackles for a loss.

"He has done very well this season," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said of Leonard. "When your time comes, you have to step up. ... He is playing really hard and I am proud of him. He has also been a good senior leader."

Leonard also has proven that he is highly adaptable.

Coming into this season, Leonard was slated to be a starter at the strongside linebacker, but when starting middle linebacker Pat Lazear was injured toward the end of preseason camp, Leonard shifted, becoming, in a sense, the quarterback of the defense. Some have described it as the team's best defensive unit in decades.

In the past, Leonard has played at rush end in special packages and both linebacker positions. He will go back to strongside when Lazear is fully healed.

For now, the reliance on Leonard in the sophisticated 3-3-5 system employed by defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is deeper than ever.

"He's played really well," Casteel said. "Anthony has always been a really good, instinctive football player. One of the things that is helping him right now is that he is able to anticipate and play a little faster, instead of having to react."

Leonard understands the responsibility that comes with the middle linebacker position.

"The hole for mistakes is narrow, really, really narrow," Leonard said. "Every moment out there could be your last and anybody could be doing what I'm doing. Because of that, I have to perfect my game and perfect my role as [middle] backer, as a leader.

"I call the play in, I direct the lineups and also call the direction of the blitzes if we are blitzing at all."

What Leonard also does is realize how far he has come, in many aspects, since arriving in Morgantown after helping push the 2005 McKeesport team to a PIAA title. Leonard redshirted one season, then was mentored and brought along the next few seasons by former West Virginia linebackers Marc Magro and Reed Williams.

Casteel is, however, the person Leonard points to most for his development.

"Our relationship is like a father and son," Leonard said. "There are going to be times when your pops is going to tell you something and you ain't going to like it, but you know you've got to do it.

"Of course, we've been through our ups and downs, but our bond is much more tight because of it. And I respect him because he's not only made me a better player, but he made me a better man."

Leonard's time at Mountaineer Field is dwindling, but his motivation still is steely.

"I think that the seniors go about their business with more urgency," Casteel said. "They understand the road is getting shorter. Not that Anthony hasn't worked when he has been here, but I think the urgency, and seeing the end of the road here at West Virginia, has those guys prepare with a little more focus."


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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