Posted: Nov. 10, 2018 12:40 am Updated: Nov. 10, 2018 1:27 am
The number of different directions Gary Bass gets pulled on game day means he rarely has a moment to take a breath, watch a play and appreciate what some of the Quincy University football players are accomplishing.
“I don’t get to be a fan very often,” said Bass, in his second year as the Hawks’ head coach and seventh coaching in the program. “Saturday, I will.”
Bass won’t allow the final chance to watch Cody Leonard play pass him by.
Leonard, a senior middle linebacker from Carrollton, needs two tackles against Southwest Baptist to break the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s record for single-season tackles held by former McKendree linebacker A.J. Wentland. It simply would be another record bearing his name.
Leonard has set these school records this year:
º Tackles in a season (144);
º Solo tackles in a season (77);
º Career tackles (352);
º Career solo tackles (211).
There’s still one game to play.
“Everyone needs to appreciate what he’s done here,” Bass said. “It’s been special and will forever be something special. Not many like him come along.”
Even fewer have the consistency and tenacity Leonard has displayed.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder has double-digit tackles in every game this season. He leads NCAA Division II with 14.4 tackles and 7.7 tackles per game. He will finish the season as the nation’s top tackler. Texas-Permian Basin’s Chris Hoad is second with 23 fewer tackles in the same amount of games.
“There’s not a person better defensively in the conference better than him,” Bass said. “There aren’t many in the nation better than him. If he’s not the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference, it’s a shame. If he’s not an All-American, it’s a shame. He deserves it.”
The only thing missing from his resume is a winning record.
“I wish our record during my four years here would have been a little better, but I wouldn’t change the journey,” Leonard said. “All the friends I’ve made here and all the brothers I’ve played with are special. That’s what will be the most memorable thing.”
The most encouraging thing was the responsibility and respect he was given. That brought out the best in him.
After playing limited snaps as a freshman, Leonard started and was the leading tackler as a sophomore when he was a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. He played outside linebacker as a junior. The coaching staff moved him this year to middle linebacker to give him the freedom to chase ballcarriers.
“The coaches put a lot of trust and confidence in me,” Leonard said.
When you make plays, you earn that trust.
“He’s like Houdini,” Bass said. “When I first got here, and we weren’t where we wanted to be offensively, (former QU quarterback Nick Lonergan) just found ways to get out of things. So I called him Houdini. It’s the same thing with Cody. All of a sudden, you think something’s going to happen, then Cody pops through a gap and makes a play. And you’re like, ‘Where’d he come from?’ I’ve never seen a guy dominate a football game the way he dominates that side of the ball.”
It’s where the crossroads of preparation and instincts meet.
Leonard has been playing linebacker since grade school. He led Carrollton to a Class 1A state runner-up finish during his senior season in 2014.
“I’ve always had a knack for knowing where the ball is going to go or if I mess up for having the ability to get around somebody to get to the ball in a quick, fast time,” he said.
How that would translate from Class 1A to the GLVC was unknown.
“I don’t think you ever know it when a guy first comes in,” Bass said. “Some guys you look at and think, ‘If he gets bigger, if he really puts his head into learning his position, he has a chance to be special.’ Cody had the intangibles you look at and think, ‘This kid’s different.'”
Much of it centered around his work ethic.
“He’s the good, old-fashioned, bring-my-lunch-pail-to-work kind of guy,” Bass said. “He’s going to do his job, and he’s going to do it 100 miles per hour.”
If he doesn’t make a tackle, he makes sure he impedes a blocker or plugs a gap so someone else can make the play.
“Unselfish. That’s what I think of when I think of him,” Bass said. “When people see someone with a big stat line, they think he cares more about himself than anything else. Cody would trade everything he’s done in order for us to win a conference title or have the chance to make it to the playoffs.
“He’s very unselfish. He’s very humble. You get him on the football field, and the switch gets flipped. He’s a totally different individual. God knows after Saturday we’re going to miss him.”