6 juin 2024

Construit pour cela : Les rêves de football de Richie Leone, de rouge et noir, ont commencé modestement

Before he was kicking a football professionally, Richie Leone was just a kid in Roswell, Georgia, whose idols existed in humble places.

He and his family embraced the American tradition of attending high school football games at Roswell High School, where Leone fell in love with the sport.

“All I wanted to do was play Friday night lights football,” he said. “Watching the juniors and seniors play in high school, that’s what made me want to be a football player.”

In his time in high school, Leone not only played as a punter and kicker, but also saw time at quarterback, all while averaging 44.1 yards per punt. His efforts on a 10-2 team in 2009 helped him earn a college scholarship at the University of Houston, beginning in 2010.

For all four seasons of his collegiate career, Leone was the starting punter for the Cougars. There, he collected numerous awards, including being named to the 2012 Conference USA First Team, and the 2013 AAC Second Team, while also being a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Punter three times

His 219 punts at the University of Houston left him with a 43.1-yard average, and only 18 touchbacks against 79 times pinning his opposition inside the 20-yard line.

In high school, Leone dreamed of earning a scholarship, but now, performing as he was, professional football began to look like a legitimate option. With the support of his family, Leone pushed forward, despite being overlooked in the NFL Draft.

“Between my Mom and my Dad, and my two sisters, their support [has been important],” Leone said. “My Dad and I have built this bond over learning the art of punting and kicking.”

Invited to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Leone was one of five punters in attendance, but never heard his name called. The Baltimore Ravens offered a training camp invite, where Leone competed for the starting job, but came up short after three preseason games.

Signing with the B.C. Lions soon thereafter, Leone’s stay in Canada was brief, lasting only a month before jetting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once again, he fell short of a full-time NFL gig, and returned to Vancouver, where he became a household name.

Leone was named a CFL All-Star in both 2015 and 2016, earning himself yet another NFL look, this time with the Arizona Cardinals. For a third time, it didn’t work out, but the Lions were no longer an option. It was then – in 2018 – Leone picked Ottawa.

“I played here a few times before as a member of the Lions, and I knew it was a place with good, passionate fans. It was a great opportunity for me, and since 2018, Lewis Ward and I have been doing our thing, and I’m really grateful.”

The Leone and Ward pairing has brought Ottawa plenty of success, both being named East All-Stars in their first season together, and the former taking home the honour of CFL All-Star in 2019, 2021, and 2023.

“Every time those successful kicks go through, I take a lot of pride in that,” Leone said. “I’m one-third of the success.”

From small-town dreams, to becoming one of – if not the – best punter in the CFL, Leone believes that anyone can become big-time if they have their head in the right place.

“Maximize your resources,” Leone said. “There are a lot of people out there who want to help young athletes to succeed. Use your resources, and put your head down and work hard.”