ATHENS -- There have been other good athletes who could have made it out of Leonard Floyd’s tiny hometown of Chauncey. They didn’t, he thinks, because they didn’t have people watching out for them. Or they didn’t have that singular focus he has had since that moment he realized he could get out.
“Motivation. Thinking about what my goal was every day,” he said. “Which was to make it out of whatever I was, to a better place.”
He might have found it.
The story of Georgia’s preseason practice, at least on the defensive side, has been Floyd. The freshman from Dodge County has earned praise from his coaches, as well as the promise of big things from teammates and a high-profile former Georgia star.
“There is (one) name that everyone will need to know on UGA’s defense,” David Pollack, the ESPN commentator and former Georgia star defensive end, tweeted after visiting Georgia practice last week. “Leonard Floyd is a freshman OLB who will be the next great pass rusher at UGA. Long, lean and explosive.”
Floyd heard about that quickly, although not by reading his own Twitter feed, because he’s one of the rare players who doesn’t have one.
“People were telling me about it,” Floyd said. “Someone pulled up their Twitter and showed me, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I appreciated him saying that, though.”
Not having a Twitter account isn’t out of character for Floyd, whom teammates and coaches describe as quiet, humble and mild-mannered.
“Never had any trouble out of him that I can remember,” said Rex Hodges, who was Floyd’s head coach during his senior year at Dodge County. “You hear these horror stories sometimes about these top recruits, and they really kind of mail it in that last year of high school. Leonard wasn’t like that. Leonard likes playing, I don’t care what he’s playing, whether it’s football or basketball or whatever. If someone’s got a game going on, he wants to be a part of it.”
Growing up in Chauncey, a town of maybe 300 people, Floyd was a basketball and football player. But in the 10th grade he heard from Georgia assistant coach Scott Lakatos, who was recruiting the area. That made Floyd realize football was his future.
“Georgia was the first school to ever talk to me, so when they started talking to me I stopped everything and just focused on football,” Floyd said.
It wasn’t a direct route from Chauncey to Athens. He had to attend prep school for a year after two of his classes weren’t accepted by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
That might have actually helped his football development. Dodge County played a 4-3 scheme, so Floyd spent all of his time as an end, starting with his hands on the ground. But at Hargrave, he played in a 3-4 system more similar to Georgia’s, and he began the adjustment to outside linebacker.
Still, it’s raw ability that Floyd is showing off thus far in preseason practice. He smiled when asked what he brings to the field.
“Speed,” Floyd said. “All day. Every day.”
“That definitely describes him,” said Jordan Jenkins, the sophomore outside linebacker who had five sacks last year. “He’s got the height and the length. I’m not gonna describe his move, but he’s got a move that definitely works for his height and his length. He’s definitely gonna be ebbing and flowing on the field. He’s got some good skills that I don’t have that’s gonna make him shine this year, too.”
What skills that Jenkins doesn’t have?
“Can’t give it away yet,” Jenkins said with a grin. “You’re gonna have to wait and see.”
Floyd has been doing this, by the way, while wearing a club on his left hand, the result of thumb surgery. He said the bigger club is supposed to come off Tuesday, and he’ll get a smaller one.
And then when the season opener at Clemson rolls around, Floyd figures to either be starting or splitting snaps with sophomore James DeLoach, the presumed starter after spring practice.
“I came in and worked hard, and been doing good, I guess,” Floyd said. “Really, if you play hard you’ll end up making a play. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was OK.”