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Leonard gives his dues

TIMES SPORTSWRITER
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CANTON — When he was a kid growing up in Gouverneur, Brian Leonard never got to meet any National Football League players.


His hero was his older brother, Nate, who became the first local athlete in several years to play NCAA Division I football when he signed with Rutgers University.


But area kids, with hopes of making it big now, have a living example that it's possible to be in a remote area of upstate New York and still find your way to football's top league.


Leonard, who is a running back with the Cincinnati Bengals, is nearly done with the second year of his football camp at St. Lawrence University. This year he brought along Potsdam native Trevor Scott, a linebacker with the Oakland Raiders.


"I think it means a lot," Leonard said. "What paved my path was my brother. He was my role model, the guy I looked up too. Now we're giving back here and hopefully giving the kids the opportunity to go to the next level, too. We have some talent scouts here. If there's a kid good enough to go to the next level they're going to get their film out there."


Leonard's campers have worked out during a heat wave, as temperatures were in the 90s every day this week. But the camp has almost doubled in size this year.


"We have over 100 kids right now," Leonard said. "We're just loving coming out here. It's hot weather right now, but we're enjoying it. We are teaching them the fundamentals of football.


"We have Trevor Scott here this year, another NFL athlete. I couldn't imagine when I was a kid coming to St. Lawrence, they didn't even have a football camp, and seeing two NFL athletes here. It's pretty cool."


Later this month, Leonard will get back to his main job as he reports to the Bengals' training camp.


He joined the team last year after spending his first two years in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. Leonard was a key player in third-down situations for Cincinnati last season.


Leonard missed most of his second season in the league with a shoulder injury, but has gained 394 yards on 115 career rushing attempts and has caught 60 passes for 400 yards.


"It's a real big year for me," Leonard said. "First of all, it's my contract year. It's a big year for (the Bengals). I'm looking forward to going to camp. I know my role. It's gotten bigger through last year. I'm excited about that."


Leonard was not guaranteed a spot on the Bengals roster when he went to camp last year, but he doesn't really face that situation this time around.


"It's not as nerve-wracking now," Leonard said. "I feel like I've got a place on this team. Obviously I've got to make the team, but I feel like they need me this year. We have a chance to go a long ways. I know what I have to do this year. It's a lot more easy coming into this year than last year when I wasn't sure what was going to happen."


Leonard's also learning to deal with the physical nature of being an NFL running back. He had surgery on both of his shoulders after his rookie season.


"Put pads on and run as fast as you can through a brick wall 15 times a game, that's what it feels like," Leonard said. "The next morning you are going to be sore."


Leonard's hard-charging style has even drawn comparisons to former Washington Redskins star John Riggins, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XVII.


"He's a hard runner," Leonard said. "He's everything I am, a tough guy who will get the yards after contact and has pretty good hands out of the backfield. I don't like to compare myself to a legend like that, but if I could be close to him I'd be happy."

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