By MARINA WATERS
After the David Crockett High School baseball team went 8-26 during their 2016 season, the Pioneers’ third baseman and Tusculum baseball signee Will Leonard was a bit disappointed. But little did Leonard know the Pioneers would turn their next season — and Leonard’s final at Crockett — around.
“Senior year we really played as a team. Our chemistry was a lot better and it was just more fun to be out on the field because everyone wanted to be there,” Leonard said. “We did a lot better than the previous year, which I was happy about because that was our goal. We really based everything we did this year off of last year because we didn’t do too hot at all. We really struggled playing together. And then the year after, we were all just best friends. It was about going out and having fun.”
The turn around between his junior and senior seasons counts as an accolade in itself for Leonard along with the third-baseman’s 375 batting average, 41 RBIs, 40 hits and the Big 7 Player of the Year title that took the upcoming Tusculum Pioneer by surprise.
“I wasn’t really quite expecting it because, I mean, that’s a big honor,” Leonard said. “So to be able to be named that, it really kind of built self-confidence. It’s kind of overwhelming to be honest with you.”
But the road to such an honor wasn’t always a smooth one; when asked what obstacles Leonard overcame to earn his spot as a college baseball player for the Tusculum Pioneers, his comments immediately revolved around a chronic condition he’s been dealing with for most of his life.
“I’ve been juvenile diabetic since I was 1 year old. So that’s kind of a big obstacle playing sports and being active because of the way the disease works. But it’s just something to keep positive about and just keep moving forward on,” Leonard said.
“You’re out there playing and then your sugar drops, you can’t play as well as if before. You’re not as proficient. Or if your sugar’s high, you’re not at your most proficient level. You’ve got to maintain a level of steadiness with your blood sugars.”
Like with most obstacles, however, fighting that battle has only increased his drive to get on the field and play the game he’s loved since he was 3 years old.
“It makes me appreciate the game more,” Leonard explained. “Because knowing that I can do it with the disability, it makes me feel stronger in my game.”
Now that Leonard is headed to Greeneville to join yet another Pioneer squad, he said he’s most looking forward to the physical gains that come along with the Tusculum program.
“Building character and honestly, strength (are what he’s looking forward to). I’ve never really lifted weights or anything here at Crockett because we did CrossFit — which is more of like a cardio and stamina building,” Leonard said. “And in college I’ll get to actually be in a weight room.”
This summer, the upcoming college athlete is playing for the Tusculum-affiliated travel team, the Northeast Tennessee Pioneers who are led by Tusculum’s assistant coach Nick Rodriguez.
Leonard will also be joined by his high school teammate Bo Britton who ended up on the same college roster as the Big 7 Conference Player of the Year.
“It just kind of happened. He’d been wanting to play at the next level too and he hadn’t had any offers so I got him a tryout with our travel team,” Leonard explained. “He came and tried out and he basically went through the same process I did with Coach Rodriguez.”
Until Leonard officially hits the dirt for the Pioneers, he’s honing his skills on the field while also gearing up to build the kind of mentality it takes to make it in college baseball.
“With the character that they teach in college, it’s a lot different from high school,” He said. “I definitely want to step up my focus because it’s a lot more laid back in high school than it’s going to be in college.”
Whether it’s in Greenville or Jonesborough, Leonard said he simply enjoys the game he’s loved since t-ball and the passion he’s developed on the diamond.
“Probably just the love for the game (keeps him wanting to play). It just relaxes me,” Leonard said.
“It’s something to be passionate about.”