‘Minister of Defense’: Newcomer A.C. Leonard Making An Impact With Redblacks

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette, Freestyle Photography 

The play came midway through the second quarter in last Saturday’s Redblacks-Alouettes game. Defensive end A.C. Leonard dipped inside, beating his man cleanly on his way to sacking Alouettes’ quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Leonard shot up to celebrate the conquest. He put his hands in the air, rubbing each thumb with its respective hand’s index and middle fingers. It is the universal sign of money and the celebration most closely associated with ‘Money’ Manziel.

“We’re just having fun. I saw he loved to do it so I figured if I got a sack I would give something for the fans,” said Leonard.

Leonard has certainly given more than that for Redblacks fans in 2018. He is having a breakout first season in Ottawa. Leonard is currently fifth in the CFL in sacks.

Along with joining a new team this season, Leonard gained a nickname: the Minister of Defense. Leonard admits with a smile that he doesn’t know how the nickname started this season.

“I like it though, so I’m going to roll with it,” said Leonard.

It seems to have been coined by Redblacks PA Announcer Mike Sutherland. After sacks by Leonard at TD Place, Sutherland’s voice rings throughout the stadium.

“The Minister of Defense, A.C. Leonard,” growls Sutherland, putting extra emphasis on each of A.C.’s initials.

Ottawa’s newly appointed Minister of Defense has already tallied four sacks and 28 tackles as the first half of the 2018 season is set to conclude. Leonard is well on his way to setting career highs in both areas. Not to mention, the 26-year-old has been heating up as of late, recording a sack in each of the last three games.

“I trust my coach’s game plan each and every week. Play hard and good things happen, that’s all,” said Leonard.

Leonard may be soft-spoken about his performance, but Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell was not. Leonard’s play in the win over Montreal was something that caught Campbell’s eye.

“He did some really good things. He was very noticeable last game when you throw the film back on. He just won some one-on-one matchups,” said Campbell. “It’s always nice when you don’t have to scheme it up perfectly – where a guy just wins [his matchup].”

As is the case with many players in the CFL, even the stars, Leonard is a football journeyman. He spent his college years at the University of Florida and Tennessee State University as a tight end. Undrafted in 2014, Leonard got his NFL shot with the Minnesota Vikings in training camp. From there, he bounced not only from team to team, but from league to league.

It started off in 2014 in the now defunct Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) with the Brooklyn Bolts. Over the next three years, Leonard joined rosters in the FXFL, Arena Football League, the National Arena League and finally, the CFL. Leonard’s CFL debut came with the BC Lions in 2015 as a wide receiver. Yes, you read that right, a wide receiver.

Leonard spent the last two seasons in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders head coach Chris Jones shifted Leonard permanently to the defensive line. At defensive end, he totaled five sacks in each of his two years with the Roughriders. It has been a winding road to Ottawa for Leonard, but he says he loves the defense he is now a part of.

“I feel like the sky is the limit for this defense. I feel like we have so much more to accomplish. If we just keep coming in everyday and put in work, it is going to be great for us,” said Leonard.

Coach Campbell knows how crucial Leonard is to what the Redblacks defense is trying to accomplish, especially when it comes to making big plays.

“We need him to play that way,” said Campbell, again referencing Leonard’s performance against the Alouettes. “When he plays that way, it makes a big difference for us and creates sacks or fumbles or interceptions.”

Leonard will be looking for his fourth consecutive game with a sack when the Redblacks travel to Winnipeg this Friday.