Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland (15) catches a pass as Mississippi defensive back Deane Leonard (24) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Thomas Graning

Former Dino star Deane Leonard adjusting to life in the SEC with Ole Miss Rebels

Leonard in his first season at Ole Miss

It’s certainly been an eventful transition for Deane Leonard.

The two-time All-Canadian defensive back with the Calgary Dinos is in his first season at Ole Miss. He transferred there during the off-season after the COVID-19 pandemic forced U Sports to cancel its 2020 campaign.

The six-foot-two, 195-pound Calgary native is a second-team player on a Rebels defence that’s allowed 1,201 yards and 92 points in its first two games of the year. And it doesn’t get any easier as Ole Miss (1-1) takes on No. 2 Alabama (2-0) on Saturday.

John Metchie III, of Brampton, Ont., had five receptions for 181 yards and two TDs in leading the Crimson Tide past No. 13 Texas A&M 52-24 last Saturday.

“They’re like a track team back there,” Leonard told reporters this week during a videoconference. “They’re fast, they’re agile, they can really do it all.”

But at least Leonard can prepare safe in the knowledge that he’ll be able to continue his transition to life in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference. He didn’t receive clearance from SEC officials to play until just before the Rebels’ season-opening 51-35 loss to Florida on Sept. 26.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Leonard said. “You go to practice every day and you give it your all but you don’t know if you’ll actually be able to go out on the field.

“I kind of approached the week with the mindset that I was going to play so it wasn’t too much of a change. But, yeah, it was good to hear that at that point.”

And it wasn’t long before Leonard – who led Canada West with four interceptions last year, returning two for TDs for the Vanier Cup-champion Dinos – understood he wasn’t in U Sports anymore. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask threw for 416 yards and six TDs while Kyle Pitts, a six-foot-six, 246-pound tight end, had eight catches for 170 yards and four TDs.

“That’s something I didn’t really have experience with how athletic the guys are — both in speed and size,” Leonard said. “Playing against Florida, going against Pitts, I’ve never seen anything like that in my three years at university.”

Still, Lane Kiffin, the University of Mississippi’s first-year head coach, has high hopes for Leonard. Last month, Kiffin said Leonard, “looks every bit like an NFL player.”

“It’s a reminder that I’m doing what I need to be doing day in and day out,” Leonard said. “It’s just motivation to keep on pushing forward through the season.”

Leonard certainly has a pedigree for professional football. His father, Kenton, was also a defensive back with the Calgary Stampeders (1991-97). He earned a Grey Cup ring with the franchise in 1992.

“That first half (versus Florida) was big, it was a learning experience, for sure,” Deane Leonard said. “I was slipping everywhere but I think what that game told me is I was in position for all those plays and I can compete with them.

“I still feel like I’ve got a long way to go, I just need to get a feel for the game. Everything is a little bit different. The splits are tighter, this is really my first month playing press. There’s a big learning curve and I feel like I’m just on the uprising of it.”

However, at least Leonard isn’t making the transition alone. Tavius Robinson, a six-foot-seven, 245-pound Guelph, Ont., native and former Gryphons defensive lineman, also transferred to Ole Miss this off-season. The two are roommates and Leonard said it’s certainly helped having another Canadian who’s also adjusting to life in Mississippi, on and off the field.

“It’s nice having another guy in a similar situation,” he said. “Even past football, coming to Mississippi, there’s a big cultural difference and having another Canadian guy to be there is pretty big.

“Moving to Mississippi in general is just a cultural difference. Everyone is just a little bit different than you are and it just takes some time to adjust to.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Guy Pelletier, vice-president of the Red Deer region for Melcor Developments. (Contributed photo).
Melcor has to redesign new neighbourhood after Molly Banister decision

City council disagreed with administration’s recommendation to scrap road plans

The Red Deer and District Community Foundation needs to sell more tickets to host a raffle that will benefit the Women and Girls Endowment Fund.
$135K in funding available in central Alberta for charities advancing gender equality

The Red Deer & District Community Foundation is providing $135,000 to local… Continue reading

Junction 42 Partnership Rest Area, located at highways 2 and 42 east of Penhold in Red Deer County, has welcomed its 100,000th visitor.
Photo from Red Deer County
Junction 42 highway rest area hits 100,000 visitors

Junction 42 Partnership Rest Area located on Highway 2 east of Penhold

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
The problem isn’t dispatching, it’s a shortage of ambulances

Having worked in EMS for more than 43 years, and having lobbied… Continue reading

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

March 14, 2019 - Head shot of Toronto Star columnist Heather Scoffield.    DAVE CHAN FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Opinion: Canada is missing a recovery plan

The glitches should have been a sign of what was to come.… Continue reading

A recent Lock it or Lose it campaign at Parkland Mall found only 35 per cent of drivers took action to make their vehicles less tempting to criminals. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Michael Dawe: Parkland Mall transformed region’s retail landscape

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 3, 1970, there was a major boost… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Fitting finale: Dodgers win title, Turner tests positive

Turner returns to the diamond about an hour after the game

Most Read