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S.C. State redshirt senior linebacker Darius Leonard.

S.C. State Sports Information

South Carolina State's home-opening football game against Charleston Southern was canceled for this past Saturday because of a state of emergency in the Palmetto State from Hurricane Irma.

So next up for the Bulldogs (0-1) is Johnson C. Smith at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at home.

When the Bulldogs take to Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, they will be led by the all-time leading tackler in program history.

No, it won't be a ceremonial entrance honoring Bulldogs' all-time great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Harry Carson (who holds the record for tackles in a game with 20 against Newberry in 1975).

And it won't be a '90s throwback entrance involving Joe Montford, who in 1993 set the S.C. State record for tackles in a season with 131.

Instead the Bulldogs will be led by current redshirt senior inside linebacker Darius Leonard, looking to inspire his team to a win and add to his program-high 292 tackles.

The product of a proud championship program at Class A perennial power Lake View High School in Dillon County, Leonard eclipsed the former record of 284 tackles by Donovan Richard (2008-11) during the Sept. 3 14-8 loss at Southern University in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.

"It hasn't really hit me yet that I'm the all-time leading tackler here," Leonard said at S.C. State's weekly football press conference on Sept. 4. "It came off a loss, so if it had come off a win, I think it would have felt a bit better.

"I think last year, playing against Clemson and knowing most of those guys, getting 19 tackles against them and seeing them go on to be national champions, then I thought to myself, 'maybe I can play with these guys.'"

Leonard realizes he has put his name in the discussion with the hard-hitting defensive greats who have worn the S.C. State uniform through the years, including Carson, his fellow hall-of-famer Deacon Jones, Detroit Lions all-time great Robert Porcher, Leonard's former teammate and current Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, Robert Geathers Sr., Anthony Cook, Emanuel Weaver, Chartric Darby, Phil Murphy, Mickey Sims and Barney Chavous.

"People keep asking me if Darius is as good now as Harry Carson was when he played linebacker here," Pough told the Orangeburg Touchdown Club last week. "I always tell them that Harry didn't play linebacker here.

"I should know, since I was on the offensive line trying to block him most days in practice. And, of course, that didn't happen very often." 

So with a majority of his senior season still in front of him, Leonard has put his name in the list of great linebackers having manned the second line of defense for the Bulldogs, including Ervin Parker, Anthony Clay and James Evans. All three of those players were drafted in the NFL prior to 1981.

"He's about as good as any (linebacker) I've been around," Pough said. "He has had a tremendous three-and-a-piece years (playing) here; and there has not been any better.

"I enjoy him being around the office and involved in all the things representing our program. You can always tell when he is at practice, because he always has something going on. It's a joy to have players like that on your team."

With NFL teams regularly contacting the S.C. State football offices to check on Leonard, it is highly likely he will be the first linebacker drafted from the program since Parker was a fourth-round choice of the Bills in 1980.

"Knowing all the hall-of-famers who came through here, and having my name on top of theirs (in the tackles category), it's a great honor," Leonard said. "They came here and did a lot of great things.

"Knowing that so many of them were great here and made it to the NFL, so I'm very honored to be on top. I came in here pretty small, undersized, and I didn't know a lot about the game. I didn't know too much and I wasn't strong enough, so I never thought I would be the player I am today. But every time I've had a question, I've gone to the coaches' offices and asked, just to learn more about the game." 

Leonard's half-brother, Anthony Waters, played linebacker at Clemson and was a third-round draft choice of the Chargers and later played for the New Orleans Saints. Along with Waters, it was an undrafted Bulldog linebacker who Leonard credits with inspiring him to become the player he is today in the garnet and blue.

Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Joe Thomas Jr. was finishing his playing career for the Bulldogs four seasons ago when Leonard joined the S.C. State program.

"I talk with Javon, Tonio (Raiders second-year cornerback Antonio Hamilton) and Joe Thomas almost every week just trying to get a bit of advice from them," Leonard said. "Coming from a 1A football team with about 35 players on my team and playing almost every position in high school, I came here and my freshman year I sat on the bench.

"It was a shock to me; made me humble myself a little bit. It made me want to go out there and be good. I was watching Joe Thomas, and he was a monster out there. I wanted to be just like him. That boosted me to be the man I am today. I just want to come out and play every game like it's my last game and help this team win a football game."

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