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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
1997 / ALL-VALLEY FOOTBALL TEAM : LINEMAN OF THE YEAR

Leonard: Big Body, Big-time Future

January 07, 1998|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PALMDALE — His Palmdale High teammates know him simply as "The Ox."

Opponents have recognized him as one of the region's best big game players.

Lately, however, Matt Leonard has simply felt like big game, hunted by a pack of college recruiters looking to bag themselves The Times' Valley lineman of the year.

"I'm a hunted Ox," said Leonard, who helped the Falcons win their first outright Golden League championship in more than three decades. "I'm like an endangered species."

Leonard is indeed a rare breed.

So intimidating was the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end this season that opposing teams rarely ran plays to Leonard's side of the field.

With only a half field to defend, Palmdale yielded fewer yards per game than any team in the rugged Golden League and advanced to the second round of the Southern Section Division II playoffs.

Leonard finished the season with little in the form of sacks and tackles, the direct result of his role as the Falcons' lonely intimidator.

"I was a little disappointed," he said. "I would have liked to rack up some stats and break some records, but I didn't get the chance."

He has been anything but alone off the field.

Pursued by a herd of college recruiters, Leonard was even approached by a Notre Dame representative while eating lunch at a fast-food restaurant.

A Palo Alto-area newspaper recently reported that he had committed to Stanford.

A story on the Internet claimed Leonard was a lock to commit to UCLA.

All those stories surely worried Leonard's brother, Malosi, who is doubling as an Arizona player and recruiter.

Leonard has narrowed his choices to Arizona, Stanford and UCLA, in no particular order.

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