Raphael Leonard's journey through college football brought him to three vastly different places. But that journey has shaped him into the player he is today as the 6-foot-2, 193-pound wide receiver hopes to find one final landing place: the NFL.
Leonard started his career at FBS Florida Atlantic and played in all 11 games in 2015. The next year, Leonard transferred to East Mississippi Community College, which was well known that year with the Netflix series "Last Chance U" following the program throughout the season. Leonard's last two seasons came at Southern Illinois, an FCS school.
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“It was crazy the places I’ve been," Leonard told HERO Sports. "From Boca Raton (Florida) to Scooba (Mississippi) to Carbondale (Illinois), they were three different environments to be in. Either as a student-athlete or as a regular person living everyday life. Being in three schools in four years, I felt I had the best opportunity to show myself at Southern Illinois. That was the best opportunity for me and I had more opportunities to show what I can do there than the other two places I was at.”
The numbers back that statement up. It was at SIU where Leonard really began to show how talented of a wide receiver he was. In 2017, he caught 34 passes for 530 yards and five touchdowns.
Then as a senior, he blew up.
"The biggest thing from my junior year to my senior year was me being comfortable with the offense," Leonard said. "I came in during the spring and I was thrown in and was learning the offense as I was going. But going into my senior year, I gained confidence with the quarterback and the coaches. I was real comfortable with my position coach. He put a lot of confidence in me and was telling me I could be really big in the conference and the FCS level.”
Leonard finished 2018 with 57 receptions for 847 yards and seven touchdowns and was named to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Second Team. And what caught the eye of pro scouts was his performance against Ole Miss on Sept. 8.
The Starkville, Mississippi, native caught six passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns against a team that gave him no recruiting interest in high school.
It was after that game that Leonard truly realized a shot at the next level was realistic. And fast forward months later to last week, it became even more realistic.
Leonard was the standout at Northwestern's Pro Day in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams. His 4.43-second 40-yard dash would have ranked just outside the Top 10 for WRs at the NFL Combine. Leonard's 40-inch vertical would've ranked in the Top 5. And his 132-inch broad jump would have ranked in the Top 10.
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A couple of scouts approached Leonard after his performance and told him he helped himself out a ton.
“It was real good because I always felt like my whole life I’ve been looked down on or underrated," Leonard said. "It was real good for me to be there with FBS players and showcase my talent.”
The momentum continues to build for Leonard and his hopes of playing pro football. The journey wasn't always the smoothest. But the end goal is getting more and more into focus.
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