LUMBERTON — Vonta Leach remembers the look on his mother’s face after signing a four-year, $8 million deal with the Houston Texans as a fourth-year pro in 2007.
His long-awaited chance to give back to Jackie Leach was finally happening, but it didn’t come on stage during the NFL Draft like most standout college players, dreams that will be fulfilled for many tonight in New York.
Leach instead worked his way around the undrafted obstacle — similar to trials he faced as a humble kid in Rowland — and proved his value on the field, an increasingly difficult challenge for young players who miss the luxury of being an early-round, highly-invested pick.
“I bought my momma a house with a piece of that first free agent check, a place she could call home,” Leach said Wednesday during an interview with The Robesonian. “The first few years (in Green Bay), it was all about making ends meet and not knowing if I was going to be (on the team) from year to year. I saved enough during that time to make sure I could buy her a home that was already paid for whether I was going to play again or not.”
Leach, 32, has established himself into the league’s top blockers since that momentous day and inked another multi-year, $11 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, pushing his career earnings to some of the highest figures ever for a fullback.
Some of that contract has been funneled back into the local community where Leach has provided scholarships for several students and donated $15,000 toward football equipment and a renovated weight room at South Robeson among several other ventures.
But times have changed a bit and he knows his playing days could be numbered.
The unrestricted free agent faces the fact that his position’s becoming less important in an era of one-back, pass-heavy offenses. Since his release on Feb. 27, Leach has maintained his burly frame by daily local training and utilizes Cross-Fit and boxing exercises to stay cut.
Home-cooked meals from nearby mom certainly has its advantages, but Vonta Leach the local businessman and county figurehead will have to wait a couple more years.
There’s more linebackers to beat.
“I still want to play the next two or three seasons, but it’s all a waiting game now,” Leach said. “Everybody wants to give the young guys a chance because teams know it’ll cost a million dollars just to bring me in whether I play five snaps or 20 snaps (a game).
“People have been calling me and making sure I’m staying in playing shape. Teams know I can still play. It’s just one of those things. That’s the business.”
Leach was a Shrine Bowl standout for Mike Brill at South Robeson High in Rowland before starring at East Carolina and making his pro debut with the Packers in 2004.
He’s a three-time All-Pro and became Robeson County’s first Super Bowl champion in Feb. 2013 when the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers at the Super Dome.
Last June, Leach was cut by Baltimore, but re-signed a month later and scored the NFL season’s first touchdown against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a nationally-televised matchup.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.