Colts' Darius Leonard: 'I always worked for everything that I had'

AFC Defensive Player of the Week has quickly established himself as a rookie leader after 18-tackle effort last week.

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the looming questions entering this season centered around whether the Indianapolis Colts had a defensive leader.

Weakside linebacker Darius Leonard has answered that emphatically in just two games.

Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday, the second-round pick from South Carolina State was deservedly recognized after making 18 tackles, including 15 solos, with one sack, one forced fumble and one pass breakup in Sunday’s 21-9 win at Washington.

He’s just the fourth Colts rookie in team history to win that honor. His tackle total is the most for a Colts rookie since 1994. His two-game total of 27 tackles, including 21 solos, leads the NFL.

While positive publicity is appreciated, Leonard assured Wednesday that he won’t let accolades change him. He vowed to stay humble.

“That’s always. Always,” he said.

How does he do that?

“I never really had anything growing up and I always worked for everything that I had,” said the 23-year-old Nichols, S.C., native. “Just as quick that I can get my name up, it’s just as quick my name can go down. Never get the big head and always want to outwork the next person.”

Head coach Frank Reich said the honor is also a testament to a defense that didn’t allow a touchdown for the first time since 2016. But even the first-year coach can’t help but gush about Leonard.

“The guy was just incredibly productive, didn’t miss tackles,” Reich said. “The guy is just unbelievable, the leverage he played with, the length, the ability.

> “You couldn’t ask for a better start and a better young leader than what he’s showing us and giving us right now.”

Leonard had said before the Redskins game that his self-nicknamed “Maniac” side would come out eventually. He conceded that guy showed up on Sunday.

“‘Maniac’ is actually a great name,” he said. “I put it as controlled chaos on the field. You just want to wreak havoc and just have fun doing it.

“Off the field, you’re just back to your normal person, just someone who is easy to talk to, well-mannered and just love to have fun.”

The Colts (1-1) will try to have more fun Sunday in a challenging road test against the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) at Lincoln Financial Field. That the visitors are underdogs again, just like last week, suits a guy like Leonard. He’s been living that existence his whole life, and making the most of it.

“You want to keep stacking up the days,” he said, repeating one of his favorite mottos. “I say we are like on a roller coaster coming down hill, it’s kind of hard to stop. So I think the defense just wants that snowball effect, just wants to keep stacking up everything and just wants to match their effort from last week.”

Leonard actually criticized himself for missing a tackle on an early screen pass. It’s always the plays one doesn’t make as opposed to the plays made.

“That’s the mentality of all great players,” Reich said. “But it stems from you don’t want to let your team down. But then you’ve got to have the ability to match that and fortunately he does.”

Leonard introduced himself to teammates with a memorable interception early in training camp.

“That interception was certainly one of the defining moments of his ability — probably the one that sticks out the most in my mind,” Reich said.

“Maniac” had arrived.

“I’m trying to bring it out each and every Sunday,” Leonard said.

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