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 win four consecuitve games en route to a 6-5 overall record, including a 5-2 mark in conference play, and that has them one game out of first place in C-USA's West Division with a chance to qualify for the league's championship game heading into the final contest of the year. The offense is averaging 25.2 points, 412.6 total yards (174 rush/238.6 pass), 22.3 first downs and 31:52 possession time per outing this fall and the 6-foot, 280-pounder leads the offensive line with 62 knockdown blocks, including a season-high 10 against Rice (Oct. 12).
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 33 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.
After taking a week off to focus on last Saturday's big game at North Texas, Leonard is back with his 13th entry of the fall.
Week #13: Epic
The North Texas game was one that I had circled on my calendar from the moment I found out that we would be playing them. I don't really keep a calendar aside from a grease-board monthly planner that my girlfriend got to keep me in line, so by saying "circled on my calendar," I really mean I had been looking forward to this game for a while, to say the least.
I remember when I found out we would be playing the Mean Green in Denton, a huge smile came across my face, and not a smile of happiness or amusement, but one of pure excitement with a touch of sarcasm. I couldn't wait to march up to Denton, a city merely 30 minutes from my hometown of McKinney, with something to prove and have the chance to play in front of many familiar faces. This game was one I had my sights set on even before North Texas joined Conference USA. It was a game I had my sights set on since the email.
I'm really not a bitter person or someone who holds grudges. I'm just someone who never forgets. North Texas had been recruiting me out of high school and invited me to come to their one-day camp for high school seniors. I obliged and my camp experience involved me competing with one other center for what seemed to be a scholarship offer. This center looked much better than I did on paper — taller, bigger, faster and what not, but when it came to football-specific drills, I showed him the ways of the world … or so I thought, but that's not how the coaching staff evaluated the performance and the scholarship was extended to the other center, who subsequently turned it down and is now doing quite well for a team in the Sun Belt Conference.
Now, I need to add that the coaching staff that was there when I was being recruited out of high school is not the same coaching staff that is there today. The way I found out was through email, not a call or visit or anything personal, but just an email that I still have tucked away somewhere in the files of my computer because the first thing I did after I read the email was save it, so I could refer to it for this specific purpose. It was almost like I knew I was meant to prove the message and its sender wrong. Unfortunately, the account that I saved it under no longer is my current email account, but that doesn't mean I don't specifically remember what the email stated.
It started out like most of the other messages that told me the coaching staff was going to "go in another direction" and not offer me a scholarship, but unlike most of the other emails that stopped there, this one continued to inform me of why I was not a Division I football player, why I didn't belong in Division I and why I never would be offered a Division I scholarship. The message was something along the lines of I wasn't big enough, fast enough, strong enough or able to move laterally well enough. Just thinking back on that email puts a smile on my face, one of immense amusement with a hint of sarcasm. Why? All of those physical qualities that were mentioned in that email were the same physical qualities that my teammates and I dominated in during Saturday's game.
I couldn't count the number of people that asked me how excited I was to be "going home" to play this weekend. Each and every response to them was the same. North Texas is where I used to live, but San Antonio is my home now. Sure, it brought on some pretty awesome memories being back in my old stomping grounds. Just seeing the Shops at Willow Bend Mall was a trip. I remember dragging Dad up and down the mall to all the high-end stores just for the chance to see a professional athlete because it always was rumored that Willow Bend was where the big shots shopped.
Our busses also drove past the site of the old Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse, which was where I always told Dad I would take him when I signed my first big NFL contract. I hope it's not a bad omen that this particular Smith & Wollensky's now is out of business and the building is for lease. It also was special that my high school offensive line coach, Mark Gibson, toughed out the cold weather to watch me play. His big bear hug and the comments he made about me working over the North Texas nose guard made my day, aside from beating the top-ranked team in our division.
The guest speaker at our chapel on Friday night told us that what we have done here at UTSA is "epic." We let that soak in, and as we were in our offensive meeting later that night, Coach Kevin Brown put me on the spot and asked me what epic really meant. As the team academic, I immediately responded with "unimaginably great." I think we all can agree.
So here we are, my friends. As I sit and type, and as you sit and read, we wear the same shoes. We feel the same pains and share the same triumphs because we all are in this together. When I say we are in it, by God, WE ARE IN IT! In our third year as a program, we have a legitimate shot at winning the West Division and playing for the Conference USA Championship. How many of you, in all honesty, thought that was possible? I know I sure as heck did because what we have built here at UTSA is righteous and it is epic.
What we have built now lies upon the backs of our seniors, our leaders. What our seniors mean to me and what they mean to you are two completely different things. Unless you are a parent of one of them, you do not share a similar bond with them as I do, but I certainly hope you can find it within yourself to honor them this Saturday for Senior Day and let me tell you how you accomplish that.
You show up, stay for the entire game and hold your birds high until these seniors play their last snap at home. If you do that, ladies and gentlemen, then you will be part of something epic.