Where those two roads intersected, the Gamecocks landed another commitment for their 2014 signing class.
Leonard, a versatile 6-foot-0, 215-pound senior from Buford, Ga., chose the Gamecocks over FBS teams Georgia State and Arkansas State, Youngstown State and South Carolina State, the top-ranked defense in the Football Championship Subdivision this season.
“I’ve been thinking about them for a long time,” he said Tuesday. “They’re on the rise to be something great and I want to be a part of that.”
The Gamecocks are graduating four of their top six linebackers on a team that went to the FCS quarterfinals this past season. Leonard said that post-season success “played a role” in his decision.
In addition, the comfort of playing in a defense similar to what his Mill Creek High team ran was appealing.
And he was active in that defense. A sprinter with 4.6-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Leonard was credited with 76 tackles and five sacks this past season. He had 111 tackles the year before.
He plans to be on campus this summer to get an early jump on his academics.
“I just want to be part of something I see that’s going to be great in the future,” he said.
NUMBERS GAME: The Gamecocks didn’t have any recognized FCS statistical champions this season, but they came awfully close.
Junior running back DaMarcus James finished second nationally in rushing touchdowns (29) and points per game (11.6), while kicker Griffin Thomas was second in field goals per game (1.6).
Thomas did make the most field goals in the FCS (24) and had more attempts than anyone in all of NCAA football (32). His total made was second in all of Division I behind Arizona State freshman Zane Gonzalez (25) and tied for second in all NCAA divisions with Sergio Castillo of Division II West Texas A&M.
As a team, the Gamecocks’ 52 total sacks were second behind South Carolina State’s 62 and they were second in blocked punts.
With this year’s graduating class falling away, James will enter the 2014 season ranked third among active FCS players in career rushing touchdowns. Punter Hamish MacInnes will be fourth in punting average and receiver Telvin Brown will be third in kickoff return average.