Scout-team fixture Luther Leonard fine with UW legacy
Though his Huskies career didn't go according to plan, Evergreen High quarterback turned receiver made behind-the-scenes contributions.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Alamo Bowl, Washington vs. Baylor, 6 p.m., ESPN
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It seemed fitting that when Washington receiver Luther Leonard finally found his way into a game, no one really knew it was him.
As the final seconds wound down in Washington's 31-14 win at Utah in October, the graduate of Burien's Evergreen High School made his first appearance in a game, helping UW take the final few victory-formation snaps.
Because of an issue with his uniform, however, he had to wear a number other than his customary 83, leaving fans to wonder who that was celebrating wildly with the rest of his teammates.
No matter. Leonard has stayed upbeat throughout a Huskies football career, one that hasn't gone as he had hoped.
Listed as a junior, Leonard will play his final game for the Huskies in the Alamo Bowl Dec. 29, ready to graduate with a degree in communications and move on.
Aside from the final snaps at Utah, and a few garbage-time minutes in the blowout loss at Stanford, he hasn't seen the field.
Leonard, though, said he leaves with no regrets.
"The thing about life is you've got to adjust," he said. "When you come into college, your goal — everyone's goal — is to go to the NFL and be a first-round draft pick. But, you know, when life gives lemons, you've got to make lemon juice."
Leonard has done just that, serving a valued role on the scout team, first as a quarterback, then as a receiver.
"Everybody comes here as the guy at their high school and they envision themselves being the guy when they get here," said UW receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty. "And sometimes it's a hard pill to swallow (when you're not). And sometimes it's a matter of filling a role on the offense, being the third or fourth guy, or even being a scout-team guy for your career. Not a lot of guys could handle that and continue to work and not complain and think about yourself."
A 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, Leonard was part of UW's Class of 2008, rated the No. 23 "dual-threat" quarterback in the country by Rivals.com after starting for three years at Evergreen, where he was a teammate of Washington left tackle Senio Kelemete.
Not a lot of quarterbacks were lining up to come to Washington, with Jake Locker entrenched as the starter for the next few years. But Leonard wanted to stay close to home and was happy at the chance to play in the Pac-12.
When Steve Sarkisian took over as coach in 2009, he moved Leonard to receiver.
"That was definitely a transition because that's where my heart was at, at quarterback," Leonard said.
Even at receiver, though, Leonard found the depth chart crowded. As he continued on the scout team, he thought about leaving, though never seriously.
"I love Washington," he said. "So I just stuck with it and found my niche in whatever way I could help out the team."
That meant spending his practice weeks impersonating a receiver of UW's next opponent to help the defense prepare. Occasionally, he moved back to quarterback on the scout team, and he was even prepped as an emergency replacement when starter Keith Price was injured.
Whatever was asked, Leonard willingly did, which is "all you need to know about Luther Leonard and the type of work ethic he has," Dougherty said.
Kelemete said of his longtime teammate, "He's just one of those behind-the-scenes guys that helped push the other guys and gets them going."
That legacy is fine with Leonard.
"I'll be hanging up my cleats after the Alamo Bowl and it's been a hell of a ride," he said. "I think I did pretty good. I got to a place that a lot of people wish they could have gotten, and opposed to being sad about how it turned out, I appreciate the experience."
• UW officials said this week they have accepted 38,000 season-ticket deposits for the 2012 season at CenturyLink Field, about a 90 percent renewal rate from the roughly 42,000 season tickets sold in 2011.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.