Leonard brings toughness to Longhorn team

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--When most football players tear an ACL, the question most of the time is not when the player is going to come back, but instead it's if he's going to come back.
   But for Adam Leonard, neither one of those questions apply to him.
   The Johnson County senior linebacker severely tore his ACL last season, but played through his pain. Leonard eventually decided to just kick, and had surgery in the off-season.
   "It didn't really hurt that bad," Leonard said. "When I would stop it would just give out on me. I really couldn't play in the games, but he still let me kick."
   Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood didn't know exactly how Leonard got hurt, but he admired Leonard for wanting to play through it.
   "He didn't tell us he got hurt and tried to play through it," Atwood said. "We don't know when exactly it happened, but he was hurt and he tried to play three or four games hurt. And I'm sure it just made it worse. But he's just a tough kid. I've seen kids with just little nicks want to sit out, but he didn't want to. He wanted to play, and it just shows his toughness."
   The long road back then began for Leonard. It was tough facing surgery, but he wanted to get as close to 100 percent as possible for his final year of football at Johnson County.
   "It was pretty hard," Leonard said, who is also a standout baseball player. "I had to go through therapy and everything. I had to work real hard over the summer to get back to play. It still bothers me a little bit, but it's not that bad."
   Probably the most amazing part about this is the fact that Leonard came back better than ever. He has become one of the top linebackers in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
   "He's really been one of our steadiest players on defense," Atwood said.
   Leonard has been a terror at linebacker on one of the top defensive units in the league. He has played a big part in keeping offenses in check this season.
   Leonard has been a little bit surprised with how well he has played.
   "I really didn't," Leonard said when asked if he thought we would be such a force. "I knew it wouldn't be 100 percent."
   Leonard has had so good of a year that he will threaten to make the all-conference team.
   Atwood thinks Leonard has a good chance to make that squad.
   "We hope so," Atwood said. "We'll have to wait until the end of the year to see what all the other coaches think. But I think he is in the top four or five among linebackers in the conference."
   Even though Leonard is having a special season, his greatest moment as a Longhorn came last year.
   In a 7-6 upset win over Sullivan Central in 2001, Leonard kicked an extra point that proved to be the difference.
   Also in that game, Leonard came up with what proved to be the game-clinching interception despite playing with the severe injury.
   "It didn't really affect me that much knowing I kicked the winning extra point, because we had more to play in that game," Leonard said.
   Even though Leonard is having a great season individually, it's still been a tough season for him because of the team not winning games. The Longhorns are currently 1-7 heading into their final two contests of the season.
   "I wish we could have won more games this year," Leonard said. "It just didn't end up that way."
   But there is one more chance to give Leonard and the Longhorn seniors something special to leave Mountain City with. On Thursday night, Johnson County hosts Mountain Lakes Conference leader Tennessee High.
   The Longhorns will be a heavy underdog in that game, but Leonard would like nothing more than a very special victory.
   "It would be a very big," Leonard said. "That's a big 4A school. They're real good. We didn't beat them last year, so it would be a very big win."
   Win or lose, Leonard always gets support from a person that he is very close to, and a guy that is also close to Longhorn football.
   Steve Leonard, who is Adam's father, serves as the spotter in the press box, but is also an encourager to his son.
   "He just encourages me to stick with it and do my best," Adam Leonard said.
   Overall, Atwood says you're not going to find a much better kid than Adam Leonard.
   "He's a great kid," Atwood said. "He's one of the best kids I've coached since I've been here."