Rutgers Football: Sacrifice Made Brian Leonard Greatest Scarlet Knight Ever

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJanuary 26, 2011

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 10: Brian Leonard #40 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Paul Brown Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Who was the greatest Scarlet Knight to ever set foot on the football field? 

Paul Robesen, named an All-American in 1917 and 1918, impressed the famous Columbia coach Lou Little so much he said, "there has never been a greater player in the history of football than Robesen".

When six-time NFL All-Pro defensive back Deron Cherry played for Rutgers, he was named the team's MVP in 1979 and 1980.  Cherry was a great free safety and he also punted for some of the greatest teams in Rutgers history.

What about Ray Rice?  Rice was a two-time All-American and almost won the Heisman Trophy in 2006.  He finished his career with 4,926 rushing yards, and if he had returned for his senior year, he would have had a real chance to break Ricky Williams' career NCAA rushing record of 6,082 yards.

I'm sure there are a couple of other great players that made it to the Banks in the long history of Rutgers football, but there was none greater than No. 23, Brian Leonard.

It wasn't about numbers when it came to Leonard, although he finished with 45 touchdowns and still holds the school's all-time scoring record (270 pts).  It was about sacrifice!

At the end of the 2005 season, a year in which Leonard, still a junior, established himself as the best fullback in the country, he was assured by every scouting guru he had a chance to get drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. 

Leonard, a great student who went on to win the prestigious Draddy Trophy, otherwise known as the "Academic Heisman" would have had no trouble finishing his degree in the off season.  He certainly didn't have to return for his senior year.

He ran the risk that all great junior football players encounter, the possibly of getting hurt in their senior year and never making it to the NFL.

There were so many good reasons for Leonard to leave early.  Maybe none greater than the new role he had acquired late in the 2005 season. He was no longer Rutgers feature runner, but had become Rice's blocking back.

And this was a role Leonard never complained about.  He realized Rice's greatness and knew he could contribute more to the team by blocking for Rice.  Of course, he was still called upon to punch the ball into the end-zone when the team needed those tough yards to score touchdowns inside the five-yard line.

So Leonard returned for his senior year in 2006 and Rutgers enjoyed what fans call the "miracle season", one in which they won 11 games and only lost two.  It was the season in which they came within one dropped pass of winning the Big East Championship and making it to a BCS bowl.

If Leonard didn't return for his senior year to provide the leadership this team needed, there is no doubt they would never have won 11 games. 

Everything about this team—Rice being a finalist for the Maxwell trophy, Greg Schiano winning the Coach of the Year award and all the other accomplishments—hinged on Leonard's returning for his senior season.

For this reason, he should be considered the greatest Scarlet Knight ever.