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Football: Now with Bucs, Leonard back with familiar coach

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POTSDAM — For Brian Leonard, it’s a new start under the leadership of an old friend.

After beginning his National Football League career with the St. Louis Rams and then competing the last four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Gouverneur native will enjoy a fresh start in the NFL this coming season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Leonard, who is operating the fifth annual Brian Leonard Football Camp this week at SUNY Potsdam, signed a one-year deal with the Bucs in April. He’ll be reunited with his college coach, Greg Schiano, who was at the helm at Rutgers University during Leonard’s four-year stint as a Scarlet Knight. Schiano became the Bucs’ new head coach last season.

“It’s comfortable going back to a coaching staff I already know and I’ll also be playing with some former teammates from Rutgers,” said Leonard, who regularly kept in touch with Schiano until last year when his former college coach left Rutgers for the NFL.

“I’m excited. I had a great time in Cincinnati and have some good friends there, and the fans are great. But I needed a change and I think Coach Schiano knows how to use me. Hopefully I’ll progress throughout camp and show my skills, and my role with the team will get bigger and bigger.”

Leonard, 29, is known as a humble, yet gritty player and has been used mostly as a third-down back in the NFL. In his pro career, he’s averaged 3.7 yards per carry to go along with 113 receptions. He’s also a good pass protector and has been a mainstay on special teams.

“We felt Brian could help us win and that’s why we brought him here. Brian Leonard’s a winner,” Schiano said. “I have a history with him since he was 16 years old. We’ve been through a lot together. This guy is an unselfish guy who will show up big when we need him.”

Leonard is one of the rare individuals who has made the jump from Section 10 to the college ranks and, ultimately, to the NFL.

“It’s tough to come out of a small town and make it the NFL,” he said. “But I’m glad I grew up in a small town like Gouverneur. I have small-town views. I’m think I’m grounded, and I think it’s helped keep me humble.”

While the average NFL career for a running back is four years, Leonard feels his chances of achieving a measure of longevity are good.

“I’m not taking a beating like the every-down backs are taking, and I think that does help,” Leonard said. “Though sometimes you do take a beating on special teams.

“I’m hoping to end my career in Tampa and win a Super Bowl. If I stay consistent, I think I can play two or three more years.”

A fair amount of area fans are expected to witness the debut of the popular north country native with the Bucs, who open their regular season at the New York Jets on Sept. 8. “Tampa Bay was in a lot of close games last year, and we’ve been working a lot on the two-minute drill,” Leonard said. “Coach has brought me in to help relieve Doug Martin when needed. I’ll be all right as long as I can prove myself in camp.”

Camp Turnout Strong

More than 100 young gridders are attending the Leonard camp this week where the fundamentals of the game are being stressed.

“We always go back to the fundamentals, the basics of football, right down to taking handoffs, stances, first steps, explosion after the catch, things like that,” said Leonard, who credits his own attendance at camps as a youngster as a big factor in his success. “And for the older guys, it’s a chance to get some exposure. Division III college coaches are here, and talent scouts from New Jersey. It’s a chance for kids to get their names out there. They’re looking for kids who are bigger, faster, stronger. Ones who can run a good 40 and with good hands. And for kids who love the game.”

Two such individuals include Troy Gates of Gouverneur and Garrison Barcomb of Canton, who are camp attendees. Both will be returning juniors on their respective varsity football teams this fall.

“I remember watching Brian Leonard at Rutgers and he was just great. They talk a lot about him in Gouverneur. He’s part of the reason I play football. I’m here this week to try and get better and be the best I can be,” said Gates, who will likely be the starting quarterback for the Wildcats this season. “The camp definitely will help me improve my skills. I love football and I hope I can play in college.”

Barcomb will be a third-year varsity player for the Golden Bears this fall and earned a Don Petty scholarship to attend the Leonard camp.

“Football is phenomenal. I love it,” Barcomb said. “The camp will help me get better at fullback and outside linebacker. This gives me good experience, and I’m learning a lot. I would love to go on after high school and play college football. It would be a dream come true.”

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