The transition wasn’t an easy one for Texas Longhorns senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard when new head coach Tom Herman arrived.
The 6’5 pass catcher from Longview was recruited by Mack Brown and signed with Charlie Strong as a member of the 2014 class. In three seasons under Strong and his staff, he had a different wide receivers coach every year.
By the end of it, Herman and position coach Drew Mehringer couldn’t get through to Leonard during the spring after yet another change.
“The thing is when he first got here, it was a rough patch,” Leonard said. “But I’m an older guy. I’ve matured and things like that. It’s just me learning from my mistakes and making sure it doesn’t happen again.”
At some point, Leonard clicked into alignment with his new coaches and is now drawing praise from Herman as one of his favorite players.
“He’s a changed man. I like being around him,” Herman said. “I’m sure there are others, but that one definitely sticks out for me as a guy that’s done a 180 in my mind. Now knock on wood, but he’s doing a great job.”
After spending an offseason working on speed and technique, Leonard is looking to improve upon a junior season that saw him emerge when John Burt’s playing time decreased. Leonard eventually caught 29 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
Known as more of a possession wide receiver coming out of high school and early in his career, Leonard showed flashes of big-play ability in 2016, with catches of 40 or more yards in three games, including a 45-yard touchdown against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
The emergence of sophomore Collin Johnson at the X wide receiver position has relegated Leonard back to a back-up role after starting seven games last season, but Herman considers the 205-pounder a de facto starter.
“Although Collin we feel like is special, we feel like you really don't lose a whole lot when you put Dorian in there,” Herman said. “Dorian has been productive the last couple years in college. So excited to see what those two guys with do at that boundary receiver position.”
Herman’s excitement is a result of that profound shift in Leonard’s attitude — while the head coach often talks about the important difference between being compliant and being committed, it took a while before Leonard even reached the compliant stage.
Now he’s convicted as he battles with Johnson and fellow senior Lorenzo Joe for reps. Joe hasn’t been a topic of discussion during preseason, but he did land a co-starter designation with Leonard. Given how Herman feels about the top two players on the depth chart, earning that OR suggests that Joe is in the mix for playing time as well.
And that puts even greater importance on Leonard approaching the game with conviction instead of compliance.
“It’s more of a ‘let’s buy in and let’s try and get the best outcome that we can,’” Leonard said. “Especially since it’s my last year, I’m ready to buy in to anything Coach Herman has to say. I’m not out there thinking about anything (else), it’s just kind of like put your head down and push through everything that he asks of us.”