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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Rugged recruiting process leads McLeod to D-II Harding


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Tangible evidence suggests that inside linebacker Luke McLeod was a true difference-maker for Springstead last fall.

The proof isn't as much in his individual numbers as it is in the Eagles' overall performance.

In 2011, a season in which McLeod, then a junior, missed five games due to a concussion, Springstead finished up 4-6.

Then came last year's dream season, when the Eagles reversed course, starting off 9-0 and earning their first district title since 1996.

Yes, the Springstead core had gained another year of experience, but there had been no headlining additions.

But there was a healthy McLeod, who turned in a county-best 149 tackles.

"He was the biggest difference from last year to this year for us," said now former Springstead head coach Bill Vonada following the season. "Teams figured out in a hurry, 'Wow, we can't throw around this guy and we've got to game-plan for him extensively.'"

McLeod hopes to have a similar impact when he begins playing this fall for Harding University, a Division II school in Searcy, Ark.

"It's an incredible feeling. You work your entire life to get to this point," McLeod said. "I'm extremely blessed to move on to the next level and keep playing football."

???McLeod, a three-time All-County selection, garnered Hernando Today Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Aside from his tackle total, the 6-foot-2, 210 pounder posted 11 tackles behind the line and four sacks, and returned his one interception for a touchdown.

He contributed in every phase, averaging 31.6 yards as a punter while recording three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown as a tight end.

Yet his play at linebacker, heading up a defense for an Eagle squad that permitted 101 points in 11 games with three shutouts, earned him the most notoriety.

For his efforts, McLeod earned a third team All-State nod.

"It was incredible," McLeod said of his senior season. "Not many people get to have that kind of opportunity to be 9-0. Unfortunately we had two losses in a row (to finish the season), but not everybody gets to be district champ and county champ. It was an amazing process playing with those guys. They're like my second family.

"I feel liked I performed pretty good. I went out, gave my all and had fun."

It had not been nearly so fun the previous season. Though he managed 64 tackles (down from 91 as a sophomore), he missed over a month of playing time and admitted it was tough watching from the sidelines.

"It happens in life," McLeod said. "It's part of life and you've got to go through it sometimes. I did and I was blessed to get stronger and faster, and I came back and had a great time."

???The recruiting process also did not go so smoothly.

"Oh, I hated it. It was the worst process I've ever done in my life," McLeod said. "The recruiting process is a big game. You have to play it to the best of your ability and hope it works out."

McLeod said he received an offer from Stetson University, which is starting up a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program this year, and "a few other D-II schools up north."

One day, he said, he was walking the halls at Springstead when coach Dustin Kupcik told him he'd receive a call from Paul Simmons, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Harding.

After speaking with Simmons, McLeod viewed the team's recruiting video on YouTube, and "fell in love with the school.

"Once I got up there, everything fell into place," McLeod said. "The players, when I went up there and visited, and the coaches, they made me feel welcome there and part of the brotherhood. It makes you want to work hard and do your best."

McLeod felt a tremendous sense of relief once his signing was in the rearview mirror.

He admits he had never heard of Harding before he was initially contacted, but has done his homework since. The Bison are coming off their finest season in 40 years, going 9-2 and earning their first NCAA playoff berth.

McLeod was recruited as an interior linebacker, and his first goal is to start.

Long-term, he believes playing professionally is obtainable, but said his primary concern is earning a degree so he can eventually land a job. He is undecided on his major, though broadcast journalism has peaked his interest.

"I want to go there and do my best and prove I can play college football," McLeod said. "Just get bigger, faster, stronger. Just have a great time in college, like I did in high school."

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By the numbers: Luke McLeod


So 21 70 91 1 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 3

Jr 37 27 64 2 1.0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Sr 77 72 149 11 4.0 0 1 1 3 0 1

Totals 135 169 304 14 7.0 0 1 1 3 0 4

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