In his words: Nate Leonard
SAN ANTONIO — Junior center Nate Leonard is back again this season with a blog that will give fans an inside glimpse into UTSA's first season as a member of Conference USA (C-USA).
Leonard has helped the Roadrunners offense average 22.9 points, 406.1 total yards (152 rush/254.1 pass), 23.1 first downs and a Conference USA-leading 33:10 possession time per outing this fall. The 6-foot, 280-pounder leads the offensive line with 47 knockdown blocks, including a season-high 10 two weeks ago against Rice.
A leader on and off the field, the McKinney native was instrumental in the team's success last year.
He helped UTSA open its second season with five consecutive victories and the Roadrunners finished the year with three straight wins en route to an 8-4 overall record and 3-3 mark in their first and only campaign in the Western Athletic Conference.
The only player in program history to start all 29 games, he recorded 34 pancakes a season ago and anchored an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks in 368 pass attempts (t-2nd FBS), as the Birds averaged 31.2 points and 390.2 yards (159.2 rush/231.0 pass) per outing.
Below is his ninth entry of the fall.
Week #9: Homecoming
I was going northbound at 80 miles per hour. My white and red Ironman sunglasses were cutting the glare, as Matchbox Twenty was playing so loud that my mirrors were vibrating. I had an ice-cold, cool-blue-flavored Gatorade chilling in the cup holder and it was glistening with condensation while my makeshift backpack suitcase was riding shotgun. As the driver's seat percussionist, my steering wheel was taking a beating when I noticed I had an incoming phone call.
It was from my high school offensive line coach, Mark Gibson, and the content of our conversation made my lead foot a little heavier. He wanted to know if I would give the pregame speech to the mighty McKinney Lions before Friday night's game against Plano East. I held the phone in my hands for a while after ending the call, just to let it sink in, and I smiled. Needless to say, I was preoccupied during my five-hour trip to McKinney.
As Dad and I were getting ready to leave for the game, I asked him what was the easiest way to get to John Clark Stadium, the home of the Plano Wildcats, Plano West Wolves, and Plano East Panthers. I wasn't the one driving, but I always like to know our route so I can think of stories to rekindle with Pops related to the familiar sites we pass. He chuckled and told me the directions, but he also had that look on his face that he knew something I didn't. I jabbed him in the arm, told him to quit messing with me and to just tell me what was on his mind. He smiled and said, "We aren't playing at Clark Stadium. We are playing at Kimbrough."
The name, alone, brought on a flood of memories.
As we drove to the stadium, it seemed like every other vehicle we passed was a yellow school bus carrying football teams, bands and pep squads from all over the area. That is an awesome scene and one that I haven't witnessed in a few years. Usually on Friday evenings, I am about 30,000 feet in the air looking down at lit high school stadiums across the country. To most people, they merely are lit stadiums, but to me, they are places where the hopes and dreams of a town convene at one location on one night for one purpose … to validate those hopes and dreams within 100 yards for 48 minutes.
As I walked into the empty locker room before the game, it was exactly how I remembered it. It was an eerie feeling to walk into the empty locker room. Locker rooms usually are boisterous with loud music playing and lewd jokes being told. There are snapping coaches and snapping towels. Chaos reins, but not this time. No, this time the locker room almost was peaceful. Almost.
The paint on the lockers looked to be a fresh coat, but they were the same color as when I last saw them. I walked over to the locker that I suited up in and stood there for a minute, just staring at it. It wasn't long until my motion picture memory consumed me and I vividly could see my younger self sitting there, wearing the blue and maize, bruised and bleeding, sobbing with my head in my hands and surrounded by my teammates who were doing the same.
As I looked out at the kneeling team before me, there were many faces that I didn't recognize, many numbers that weren't familiar. There were the same beautiful blue and maize jerseys, but different players filling them. Where was my best friend, Jake Smith? Where was my quarterback, Zach Lee? Where was my fellow captain, Brandon Whitham? It wasn't my team anymore, but they looked to me for guidance, just as mine did four years ago.
It's difficult to know what needs to be said to a team that finds itself as the underdog each and every week, a team that has been struggling for some years now and one that is about to face the largest high school in Texas with an enrollment of more than 6,000 students.
I just told them what I know from my own experiences of being an underdog. Being someone who is outgunned each and every week by nose guards who fit the mold of being a Division I football player a little better than I do. I shared my successes with them and told them that I am successful because I am willing to sacrifice myself for the successes of those around me. I let them know that if all of them did that on every play, that they would also be successful. I told them that nothing should give them more pride than wearing that blue "M" on the side of their helmets and "McKinney" on their chests. I told them that nothing would ever compare to playing high school football alongside lifelong friends and playing for home.
As I ended my speech, I walked out of the Kimbrough locker room for the last time.
Coach Gibson was waiting outside and wrapped me up, telling me what a great job I did and how proud he was of me. That made the whole trip worth it. The last time Coach Gibson hugged me at Kimbrough, I was bloody, bruised and sobbing. What he said to me then was the same thing he said to me last Friday night.
Kimbrough Stadium was where I played my last high school football game.
I was going southbound at 80 miles per hour. My white and red Ironman sunglasses were cutting the glare as Matchbox Twenty was playing so loudly that my mirrors were vibrating. I had an ice-cold, cool-blue-flavored Gatorade chilling in the cup holder and it was glistening with condensation while my makeshift backpack suitcase was riding shotgun. As the driver's seat percussionist, my steering wheel was taking a beating when I noticed I had an incoming phone call.
It was from my girlfriend, Sam, and the content of our conversation made my lead foot a little heavier. She couldn't wait to see me and wanted to make sure I drove safely the rest of the way. I told her that I would make it home, safely. The moment I said it, I realized that without batting an eye, I had called San Antonio "home." I held the phone in my hands for a while after ending the call, just to let it sink in, and I smiled.