By the end of the 2014 season, Conference USA quarterbacks clearly held a healthy respect for FIU cornerback Richard Leonard. League coaches showed their respect for the fifth-year senior by voting Leonard C-USA preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Leonard considered entering the NFL Draft, but came back for one more year at FIU. In 2014, he brought much of what the Panthers missed during a dismal 2013 season: turnovers (five interceptions, conference-leading four fumble recoveries) and big plays (two interceptions, one fumble and one punt returned for touchdowns).
After being the first player to win two C-USA Defensive Player of the Week awards and Special Teams Player of the Week awards, Leonard was voted first team All-C-USA at cornerback and punt returner.
Leonard’s four returns for touchdowns set an FIU single-season record and gave him six for his career, tying wide receiver T.Y. Hilton’s school record. Leonard averaged 23.8 yards on his 13 punt returns and 25.7 per return on his 24 kickoff returns.
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FIU’s pass rush helped make some of the hasty, bad decisions on which Leonard feasted. Appropriately, defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine made the watch list for the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker who plays within 5 yards of the line.