Prep football: A.L. Brown linebacker to L-R
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown linebacker Andrew Leslie settled on Lenoir-Rhyne after a recruiting tug-of-war that involved at least eight schools, including Catawba, the Bears’ biggest rival.
The East-West All-Star’s skill set — 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, strong, smart and quick enough — got him on the recruiting chalkboards of programs ranging from N.C. State to Division III Methodist.
N.C. State was interested in attracting Leslie as a walk-on, but most schools had academic/athletic packages to offer.
Leslie was flattered that the Wolfpack was interested in putting him on its depth chart, but what he wanted was a smaller school where he’d have a realistic chance to play football as well as get an education.
His dream school was Wofford, where A.L. Brown product Lee Basinger became an All-American and a Hall of Famer.
“Then Wofford decided to sign only two linebackers,” Leslie explained. “I was the third man.”
Recruiting a Wonder is a little different from recruiting players at most schools because a Wonder already has grown up in a college atmosphere.
“Some colleges that recruited me didn’t have as good a stadium or as good a weight room or as much tradition as what I was used to,” Leslie said.
Military schools VMI and The Citadel had some appeal for Leslie, but it was Division II South Atlantic Conference schools Lenoir-Rhyne, Wingate and Catawba that moved to the forefront.
Leslie was impressed with Catawba’s coaching staff.
“Coach (Chip) Hester is a great guy and Coach McComb (linebackers coach Todd McComb) impressed me,” Leslie said. “The only thing wrong was the depth chart. Catawba is really deep in linebackers. I just felt like I had a chance to play earlier at Lenoir-Rhyne.”
Lenoir-Rhyne is a program on the rise. The Bears finished off a 7-4 season last November with wins against frequent tormentors Carson-Newman and Catawba. L-R actually won four of its last five, and there were some who believed the Bears were the SAC’s best squad by season’s end.
L-R’s strength was defense. The Bears play a 3-4, which requires two active, physical inside linebackers. Leslie, the middle backer in Brown’s 4-3 scheme, should fit in to what they do in Hickory.
“L-R recruited me as a “reading” linebacker,” Leslie said. “I liked a lot about L-R. It’s a small school, but it’s got a bigger school feel. I liked that it felt like a blue-collar football program, and I liked that it’s one of the top schools in the state academically.”
Lenoir-Rhyne landed a very good player.
The people who doubt Leslie worry about whether he can run well enough for the college game, but linebacker is more about changing direction, instincts and quickness, then 40-yard dash times.
“My 40 times are average,” Leslie said with a shrug. “But my shuttle time (a measure of lateral quickness) is one of the best in the school. What determines if you can play linebacker is basically how quick you can hit a gap — not how fast you can run 40 yards.”
A.L. Brown defensive coordinator Noah Lyon is a firm believer in Leslie.
“We brought Andrew up to the varsity as a sophomore,” he said. “Started every game as a junior. Then his senior year, starting with the Thomasville game (Week 3), he became a leader for us. He made all the calls. He made all the adjustments.
“I watched a whole lot of film with that kid, and by Friday night, he knew what play was coming. He understands what’s going on out there. He’ll be successful.”
In Brown’s 11-game regular season, Leslie was the primary tackler 128 times and added 83 assists. His 11 tackles for loss, included six sacks. He had one interception and batted down three passes on his way to All-SPC honors.
The highlight tape that assistant coach Todd Hagler helped Leslie’s family put together to send out to colleges featured his games against Northwest Cabarrus, Concord and Kings Mountain.
Leslie is proudest, not surprisingly, of the Concord game. Brown won 28-21 on its way to a 12-2 campaign.
“The one number I remember from the season is that we held (Concord back) Dominique Posey to 19 yards,” Leslie said.
Leslie found out recently he was picked for the East-West All-Star Game that will be played in Greensboro. Hagler will also be part of that game as an assistant, working under Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan.
Hagler, a Lenoir-Rhyne graduate himself, is thrilled he and Leslie will be on the same team one last time.
“Because of the way he works, he deserves to be in that game,” Hagler said. “I know (Alexander Central head coach and West assistant) Tom Harper has seen Andrew’s tape and is very excited about having him as one of the linebackers.”
Leslie jokes that his weight rose to 235 pounds when he was on a “see food diet” — you see it, you eat it — around the Christmas holidays, but he plans to report for East-West duty at 215-220.
“It’s in July, so I’ve got to be in great shape,” he said. “All the players will be good, and it’ll be at a different speed from high school. It should give me a good look at what college ball will be like.”