Leonard Myers, a Dillard High graduate who played at the University of Miami from 1997-2000, died Friday morning at a Fort Lauderdale hospital after a battle with cancer.
Myers was 38.
A cornerback who earned a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in 2002, Myers signed with Butch Davis and Miami after an exceptional high school career in which he was one of the most sought-out athletes in the nation.
Part of Davis’ rebuild at Miami, Myers was a starter for parts of three seasons and was a second-team all-Big East Conference selection as a senior in 2000 despite missing a lot of time with a foot injury which would hamper him moving forward.
Signing Myers was a bit of a coup for Davis and assistant coaches Greg Mark and current Colts coach Chuck Pagano. Myers was heavily recruited by the rebuilding Hurricanes as well as the likes of Nebraska, Florida, Florida State and Auburn.
“He was such a great young man,” Davis, the new head football coach at FIU, said.
“This is a very sad day for all of us who knew him. What I will always remember about Leonard was that he had the most charismatic smile. And he was always smiling, whether he was in the hallway, at practice or in a game. He loved life, he loved playing football. I will miss that gigantic smile.”
Myers was a sixth-round pick by the Patriots in 2001 and played in seven games as a rookie — but didn’t play after Nov. 18 as the Patriots went on to win their first Super Bowl in 2002 by beating the favored St. Louis Rams.
In 2010, Myers told the Miami Herald the story of that night. He was ready to play in the game at the New Orleans Superdome but ended up being inactive for it.
“I suited up to play and in warm-up we had an O-lineman go down, so I had to unsuit right then,” Myers told the Miami Herald.
“I had been included in a couple of packages and was really excited.”
Myers played in 15 games for the Patriots over the course of two seasons and also spent time with the Jets, Saints and Lions.
Myers spent 2014 coaching at Emporia State in Kansas and was the wide receivers coach at New Mexico Highlands University in 2015 after years of saying he wanted to get into coaching “to help somebody else enjoy the life I thought I was going to have.”
The youngest of four children and the only boy, Myers lost his father, Leonard Sr., while a junior at Dillard High.
Throughout the rest of his career, Myers would kiss his right forefinger and pound his right fist to his heart then point to the sky before each defensive play to remind him of his father.
“It’s something he needs to do,” his mother, Mae Myers, said in 1999.
“My dad used to say, ‘Don’t take anything for granted. Play hard — no regrets,’ ” Myers told the Herald before the FSU game as a junior in 1999.
“I draw my strength from him and my mom. She showed a lot of courage and character when he was sick and after he passed, but now she’s like a ball of happiness. I look up at her in the stands, and she’s jumping up and down, tugging at my No. 22 jersey.”
Miami Herald staff writer Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report