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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been a handful of years since the Colts had a defender that opposing offensive coordinators truly had to worry about.
Before Darius Leonard arrived in Indianapolis this spring, the last time the Colts had a game-changing defender was Robert Mathis in 2013, terrorizing quarterbacks off the edge.
So it’s fitting that this February, two months before the Colts drafted Leonard, Mathis made sure he found the South Carolina State linebacker right here in Indianapolis.
“I sought him out at the Combine,” Mathis says of finding Leonard during the annual event in Indianapolis. “I was watching him last year when he was in college and we do have a lot of similarities, background, going to a small black college.”
Mathis had seen the film of Leonard.
But he wanted to know the person.
And the now assistant defensive line coach of the Colts came away more than impressed.
“I can’t emphasis the humbleness enough,” Mathis said of what stood out from first speaking with Leonard.
“He’s humble. Talent from the football aspect is obviously in there, but he’s humble, humble enough to learn, humble enough to listen to guys that have done it. Humbleness is the main ingredient.”
Growing up in the small town of Nichols, South Carolina, Leonard is a guy that grew up out in the country and isn’t into too much of the glitz and glamor that comes with professional football life.
“He’s kind of an old soul,” position coach Dave Borgonzi says of his rookie linebacker who is married to his kindergarten sweetheart.
The fact that Leonard is making this big of an impact, so early in his rookie season, is something that stands out to Mathis.
It took Mathis about a year before he really started to make the game-changing plays that seem to occur every Sunday for Leonard.
During last Sunday’s win over the Raiders, Leonard did his best Mathis impression with a tomahawk chop forced fumble in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory.
“When they say big time players in big time moments, it doesn’t get any bigger than that,” Mathis said of the forced fumble by Leonard. “He showed up and showed out.”
Two months after Mathis went out of his way to find Leonard at the Combine, the Colts made sure the two would see a lot more of each other.
Even though Leonard thought the ‘small school’ label would have his name still on the draft board until the final day of the draft, the Colts thought otherwise.
And it is Mathis’ job to make sure that old soul remembers those roots.
“I’m very ecstatic with (Leonard’s) success,” the Colts’ all-time sack leader says, “and I’m just keeping him grounded and humbled.”