WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Traivon Leonard finally had made up his mind.
During the early part of his college recruitment, the Oxbridge Academy defensive back had pictured himself traveling 30 miles south of his high school to play at Florida Atlantic University.
Then he’d wanted to don Carolina blue and white, committing instead to the Tar Heels.
Eventually, it was a connection to Auburn and secondary coach Wesley McGriff that led Leonard to make his final commitment to the Tigers.
And that’s when everything the 3-star defensive back had been counting on changed again.
“Four days later McGriff leaves,” Leonard recalled during a visit with SEC Country this week. “He was somewhat like me, energetic. I’m energetic. He called me the day after he was leaving and he told me to promise him that I was going to stay committed to Auburn.”
What McGriff couldn’t have known for sure as he prepared for his unplanned move to Ole Miss was that, even after learning the news, Leonard hadn’t questioned his choice for a second.
“I was still 100 percent locked into my decision,” Leonard said. “I knew I was going to stay committed to Auburn before he made that call. I was all in.”
The change may have sent other 3-star prospects into a downward spiral. But Leonard had a different reaction.
“I wasn’t stressed at all. I was kind of composed about the whole situation,” Leonard said. “My tape speaks for itself, so I just felt like all I had to do was communicate with Coach (Greg) Brown when they hired him.”
Leonard and Brown first spoke on the phone and then met in person in Palm Beach. As the two grew acquainted, Brown picked up on all Leonard had to offer.
“He’s got height. He can run, he’s very sharp,” Brown said while discussing Leonard at Auburn’s assistant coach media day. “He’s a self-starter. He’s all about Auburn. We can hardly wait to get him.”
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And Leonard, who started playing football in the eighth grade, found even more to like in Brown.
Perhaps more importantly, Leonard appreciated the longtime coach’s experience, including his involvement with three former Thorpe Award winners.
It was unexpected, but it might end up being the best thing for Leonard.
“He knows his stuff,” Leonard said. “To have the opportunity to be coached by him is something I have to take advantage of. I was very excited about his resume.”
Leonard will head to Auburn after his high school graduation later this month, but he’s already developing his relationship with Brown — and that’s just one of the many things he hopes to build when he arrives on the Plains.
“Oh yeah, we’ve stayed on the phone for like two hours talking about coverages, talking about man coverage, zone coverage,” Leonard said. “He’s very detail oriented, and I like that because it rubs off on us. Now I just have to get there and impress him.”