The first-year South Robeson head coach saw nothing, sensed nothing, felt nothing indicating the Mustangs had the sense of urgency he expected from a team preparing for the second round of the 2-A state playoffs.
So, boldly and decisively, Leonard acted. He canceled Tuesday's practice.
"I was sitting in class when the announcement came over the all-call that practice was canceled," said Chris Watson, a Mustangs senior running back and cornerback. "I couldn't believe it."
Neither could most of his teammates.
After the school day ended Tuesday, receiver C.C. Sealey and lineman Shelton Page made a beeline for Leonard's office, seeking an explanation.
"What's goin' on?!" Sealey asked Leonard. "We got a big game to get ready for!"
Leonard sat frozen in the middle of his office couch, his face etched with the same grim expression as the farmer holding the pitchfork in the Grant Wood painting "American Gothic."
"Is it a big game? After the way you guys practiced yesterday, it sure doesn't seem like it," Leonard said. "I'm not gonna waste my time or yours by practicing like that. Now go home and think about that."
"Aw, man ...," a distraught Sealey said as he exited the office.
Leonard's attempt to jar his team awake paid off Friday.
Sealey had a 47-yard reception for the winning touchdown and set up the icing score with a long punt return, and the Mustangs' defense had its best showing in a month as South Robeson thwarted Ledford 17-7 at Twitty Field.
The victory earned the Mustangs (11-1) a berth in the 2-A quarterfinals, where they will face Brevard (9-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Twitty Field. South Robeson is seeded fourth in the 16-team West bracket, and Brevard is seeded eighth.
"I think when Coach canceled practice, everybody was shook up. We had a day to put our heads on straight," Mustangs senior lineman Marcus Page said. "I think we were getting big heads and forgot how much work it took for us to get here."
Leonard said he sensed his team had lost much of its edge -- especially on defense -- after its emotion-sapping 21-14 loss to Clinton, the state's top-ranked 2-A team, on Oct. 25.
In its seven games before the Clinton matchup, South Robeson's defense had been Scrooge-like -- permitting an average of 13.6 points per game. In their next three games after losing to Clinton, against teams with a combined 11-23 record, the Mustangs gave up an average of 23.0 ppg.
"We were getting lazy with our tackling," Leonard said. "We were winning, but we weren't playing well. That is not acceptable for a South Robeson football team."
Leonard was put in charge of maintaining the South Robeson standards of excellence two days before this season's opener, when 10-year coach Mike Brill abruptly resigned because of health concerns.
"I walked in the door of our principal's office the day Mike stepped down, and she said, 'We have the utmost confidence in you,'" said Leonard, who served Brill as an assistant for seven seasons. "I had no idea what she was talking about.
"When I found out they wanted me to be the coach, I was in shock."
Leonard inherited the reins of a program that had an 84-25 record over the past nine seasons, earning a playoff berth every season.
More than that, Leonard was stepping in for Brill, a meticulous tactician and fiery motivator whose inspirational speeches could make even a lumpy sportswriter want to drop and do 20 pushups.
"Mike set the bar high here," said Leonard, who had been a head coach at Orrum in 1987-90 and at Fairmont in 1991-93. "My only hope is that I don't screw things up. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?"
Under Leonard's guidance the Mustangs have advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"I knew we'd be good because we've got talent and a good coach," Page said. "And I think all of us understand what it means to be a Mustang.
"I mean, I remember being a little kid up in the bleachers during the high school football games, seeing the team winning. I'd say, 'Can I be that great?' It's tradition. It's an honor for me to be part of the tradition."
Steve Beaudry can be reached at 739-4322, Ext. 118 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.