MORGANTOWN-After seeing action in nine of West Virginia's 13 games in 2009, senior-to-be Anthony Leonard was expected to battle for one of the starting linebacking positions when spring drills began in March.
However, if there was one position on the Mountaineers' prevent unit which was stacked coming into the 2010 campaign, it was at linebacker.
Undaunted by the task in front of him, Leonard went out and showed that he was the best person for the job and when the old gold and blue opened the season against Coastal Carolina there was the McKeesport, Pa.-native in WVU's 3-3-5 stack alignment.
And, Mountaineer fans have been pleased with what they have watched out of the 246-pounder.
Entering Friday's 8 p.m. showdown with Big East rival Connecticut, Leonard ranks second on the team with 43 tackles (20 unassisted), just behind Terrence Garvin's 45. He is also among the team leaders in tackles-for-loss with 4.5 and has a sack, pass breakup and forced fumble to his credit.
"I told him (Anthony Leonard) how proud I was of him this weekend," head coach Bill Stewart said. "He was our player of the game (against Syracuse).
"He was written off and told that his feet were too slow, that he was club footed and that he was not Reed Williams. He has proven that if you pay your dues and pay attention to details, you will do well."
And the 6-foot-1 linebacker is doing exactly that as evidenced by his eight tackles (3 solos) in WVU's 19-14 loss to Syracuse at Milan Puskar Stadium last Saturday.
Leonard and his defensive mates will be tested again on Friday when the Huskies' Jordan Todman looks to light up the scoreboard on a Mountaineer rush defense which is allowing only 97.4 yards per game.
"I hope that it (the loss to Syracuse) serves as a wake up call to our football program so that we can get back on track," continued Stewart. "We have a big chore awaiting us in Connecticut this Friday night."
In the teams' last meeting in Morgantown Todman, who averages 140.2 yards per game, rushed the football 20 times for 94 yards and scored the Huskies' first touchdown of the game on a 5-yard scamper in the first quarter.
West Virginia, 6-0 all-time in the series, went on to defeat the Huskies by a 28-24 score, but it took a late, 56-yard touchdown run by senior Noel Devine to keep the Mountaineers from tasting defeat for the first time in the series.
"They (UConn) are a Big East team and anything can happen," added the coach. "We play pretty tough football in this league."
And, Leonard, who was a first-team, 4A all-state performer at Pittsburgh's McKeesport High School and won the WVU Danny Van Etten Award as the team's defensive scout team player of the year during a redshirt freshman campaign in 2006.
WVU's three linebackers will be key to any success the Mountaineers' defense hopes to have against the run-oriented Huskies and if Leonard and company are successful in slowing down Todman then Connecticut's offense will be forced to turn to first year starting quarterback Zach Fraser.
And, that could make for a long night for the Huskies.