Jackson Leonard is in some pretty good company these days.
His head coach is former National Football League coach Jerry Glanville [Houston Oilers, Atlanta Falcons].
And the Holden native is playing at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, against former NFL players and others who competed for big-time Division I programs.
Some of the games are televised on FS1.
Even so, former John Bapst of Bangor and Husson University football player Leonard doesn’t feel overwhelmed playing for the Conquerors in The Spring League.
The Spring League is a developmental league that is not officially affiliated with the NFL. Players don’t get paid — they have to pay a $2,100 registration fee — but have the opportunity to showcase their talents for NFL scouts.
The league has sent 90 players to the NFL and another 51 to the Canadian Football League since its inception in 2017.
“I definitely feel like I can compete at this level,” the 24-year-old Leonard said. “The more I practice with them, the more I feel I’m on the same level with them. I’m definitely getting more comfortable with the playbook.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league schedule was moved to the fall. The six teams played the first of their four regular-season games earlier this week. Playoffs will follow.
Leonard in February attended a tryout showcase in Las Vegas and opened some eyes with his aggressive play in two games for the North Team against a Las Vegas team and the East team.
“I forced a fumble on a kickoff [against Las Vegas],” said Leonard, who is a safety. “I made some other good plays, too.”
He participated in another showcase recently and was placed on the practice squad, which is composed of 90-100 players and serves all six teams.
Last Saturday, he was called up off the practice squad to the Conquerors roster and played on the kickoff team in Tuesday’s 33-19 loss to the Generals.
Leonard said he had only one full practice with the team before the game.
“The tough part is a lot of these guys are from big-name schools and have big-name reputations. I’m an underdog so I’ve got to work [extra] hard to get a starting spot,” Leonard said.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself. My goal is to break into the starting lineup,” he added.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Leonard said he is learning every day and is fortunate to have had some exceptional coaches in his short stint.
During the showcase, he played for Donnie Henderson, who was a defensive backs coach for six NFL teams and the defensive coordinator for two.
“I learned a lot from him. He is probably my favorite coach,” Leonard said.
His defensive backs coach with the Conquerors is former NFL player James Fuller, the former head coach of the Portland-based Maine Mammoths of the National Arena League.
Leonard credited John Bapst head coach Dan O’Connell and assistant Dave Sanzaro and Husson head coaches Gabby Price and Nat Clark with playing important roles in his development.
He was a standout running back and linebacker-defensive back at John Bapst. He had a productive senior season in 2019 as a safety at Husson (19 tackles, 15 unassisted) after an injury marred his junior year.
“He played a large role for us last year,” Clark said. “He’s a tough kid. He competes hard. One of his greatest qualities is he loves the game of football. It is his passion.”
O’Connell called Leonard explosive and tough.
“He is driven. He has had high aspirations to play at a high level like this since he started playing football,” O’Connell said.
The son of Kent and Lisa Leonard, who also provided a physical presence for the John Bapst hockey team, said one of the nice things about being on a roster is that his meals and hotel room are being paid for.
He said he and all of the players are tested regularly for the coronavirus.
Leonard, whose Conquerors face the Alphas at 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, said he loves being in The Spring League.
“They really treat you like a pro,” he said.