Before he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and an All-Pro linebacker, Darius Leonard carved his path at South Carolina State. Leonard arrived at South Carolina State with a chip on his shoulder after being passed on by his dream school, but he used the slight as motivation to dominate HBCU football. Darius Leonard’s collegiate career saw him finish as one of the best players in South Carolina State history and the school's third-highest draft pick in its illustrious history.
Here's everything you need to know about Darius Leonard’s college career.
The vitals on Darius Leonard
School: South Carolina State
Weight: 235 pounds
Years active: 2013-2017
Here are Darius Leonard’s career stats in college. Scroll to the right to view the complete stats.
Where did Darius Leonard go to college?
Darius Leonard, a native of Lake View, South Carolina, attended South Carolina State. Leonard signed with South Carolina State over a preferred walk-on offer from Clemson. Per 247 Sports, Leonard also took multiple unofficial visits to Clemson during his recruitment, where his older brother Anthony Waters played linebacker.
What kind of prospect was Darius Leonard in high school?
Leonard was a two-sport athlete in football and basketball at Lake View High School. In basketball, Leonard was nicknamed Mr. High Flyer for his ability to dunk on almost anyone. On the gridiron, he played running back and defensive back thanks to his lanky 180-pound frame.
Academically, Leonard didn’t qualify with the necessary SAT scores until two weeks after national signing day. By this time, any opportunity for a scholarship at Clemson was off the table and he was only offered preferred walk-on status. As a result, Leonard committed to his only scholarship offer, South Carolina State, without ever visiting the campus or speaking to a coach.
What was Darius Leonard’s record in college?
In the 43 games Leonard played in college, South Carolina State won 23 games going 19-13 in the MEAC. Leonard’s Bulldogs won one MEAC title in 2014.
Records set by Darius Leonard
Here are some of the notable records and statistical rankings set by Leonard in college:
- 1st in South Carolina State career total tackles: 394 tackles
- 4th in MEAC career total tackles: 394 tackles
What were some of Darius Leonards’s best games in college?
Here are some of Leonard's most notable performances in college:
South Carolina State 35, Morgan State 14 | Oct. 6, 2017
- 18 tackles (14 solo), two interceptions, one pick-six, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry
South Carolina State 14, Howard 9 | Oct. 15, 2016
- 14 tackles (11 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry, two interceptions, one pick-six
South Carolina State 0, No. 3 Clemson 59 | Sept. 17, 2016
- 19 tackles (eight solo), one tackle for loss, one blocked kick
South Carolina State 0, UCF 38 | Sept. 3, 2016
- 16 tackles (eight solo), one forced fumble, one pass breakup
South Carolina State 36, Florida A&M 0 | Sept. 17, 2015
- 16 tackles (16 solo), three tackles for loss, one sacks
South Carolina State 13, North Carolina A&T 0 | Oct. 4, 2014
- 13 tackles (eight solo), one forced fumble
South Carolina State 34, Florida A&M 17 | Nov. 8, 2014
- 13 tackles (12 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks
South Carolina State 17, No. 21 Furman 7 | Sept. 20, 2014
- Seven tackles (six solo), three quarterback hurries, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
What awards did Darius Leonard win in college?
Here are the awards and honors Leonard won in college:
- Senior Bowl Defensive MVP (2018)
- NFL Combine Invitee (2018)
- First-Team AP FCS All-American (2017)
- First-Team STATS Perform All-American (2017)
- Finalist (5th in voting) for Buck Buchanan Award (2017)
- 2X Boxtorow Willie Davis Defensive Player of the Year (2016-17)
- 2X MEAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016-17)
- 3X First Team All-MEAC (2015-17)
- 3X MEAC All-Academic selection (2015-17)
- SBN Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year (2016)
- First-Team AFCA Coaches’ All-American (2016)
- Second-Team STATS Perform All-American (2016)
- First-Team Boxtorow All-American (2016)
- Honorable Mention Boxtorow All-American (2015)
- MEAC Rookie of the Year (2014)
- Jerry Rice Award finalist (2014)
What did people say about Darius Leonard?
South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough on recruiting Leonard: "Some guys are 180 and they don't get as big as Darius Leonard. But he came from an athletic family. ... His brother was the same frame in high school, 180, and he went to Clemson and got bigger. It wasn't like (Clemson) didn't know him. They just didn't want to wait on him."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to Leonard after seeing his success: “I hate that we missed on you.”
Executive director of the Senior Bowl Phil Savage on Leonard as an NFL prospect: “Darius is an ideal modern-day linebacker because of his speed and athletic ability. He is versatile enough to play in the box or expand outside and defend in the open field. He should be able to help right away as a rookie on special teams and in sub situations.”
Darius Leonard quotes
On how he got his “maniac” nickname: "After the (Clemson) game, someone walked up to me on campus and said I was playing like a straight maniac. That stuck, and I went with it.”
On having a great performance against Clemson: “It was great to go out there and show them what they could have had.”
On being under-recruited out of high school: “Listen, if you have a zero star, that doesn't mean that you're not gonna be somebody. I was a zero star. I was under-recruited, but don't get discouraged. Just continue your path, and when you find that drive, people keep doubting you, people telling you (that) you ain't gonna do nothing, you've got to prove them wrong. Do not let them get in your head and say, 'Okay, I'm gonna fall in their trap.' Nah, it's you against the world 'cause when you wake up in the morning, there's only one person that looks back at you in that mirror, and that is you. So forget them and just ball out, man.”
On making it to the NFL from an HBCU: “This is one thing I wanna tell these people who are up here watching, these high school kids. You do not have to go to a Power-5 school to make it to the NFL. There are so many people in the NFL from the HBCUs. You know South Carolina State has four NFL Hall-of-Famers. Clemson has one, South Carolina has zero.”