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Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker’s relationship shows the power of teamwork

There is no better example of how a strong relationship can build a strong foundation for a team than the one between Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker Jr.

In any profession or career there may be no greater influence on achieving one’s goals than the power of teamwork. This is doubly true in a sport like football.

Football fans set aside their free time to watch professional athletes play a kids’ game. The highs and lows of a team’s wins and losses can have a big impact on capping off a weekend or starting a new week on the right foot. Naturally, fans gravitate to specific players, typically those who have the greatest impact on the success of their favorite team or those who make the game more fun to watch.

What fans rarely get to see is the relationships teammates form on and off of the field in order to achieve success each week. Perhaps no year has provided a better backdrop for the importance of teammates establishing strong personal bonds than 2020, which has seen an unprecedented offseason process that has been filled with video conferences and sharing information in a digital way.

Even now, COVID-19 is impacting teams and their facilities with players entering league mandated quarantines and in-person practice getting cancelled somewhere in the league each week.

For Colts fans, there may be no better example of how a strong relationship can build a strong foundation for a team, for a position group, or in a locker room than the one between Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker Jr. Even fans around the league would likely appreciate how much the two clearly care about one another and work hard to push each other to be better players on the field and better persons off of it.

In order to get a full view of this duo, it’s best to learn a bit about them as individuals. Rather than go deep into their backgrounds and personalities with words, we encourage you to watch a couple of videos that were produced by the Colts’ video team.


DARIUS LEONARD

Darius Leonard | Colts Life

The short version of Darius Leonard’s story is that he is from a small town in South Carolina and grew up in a large athletic family that includes five brothers and three sisters. He has always had a close relationship with his mother Lynette Waters, who has held onto his trophies and awards going all the way back to the time Darius was three years old. Lynette was a single mother and her bond with her children is apparent.

As a child Leonard looked up to and would compete with his brother Anthony Waters with hopes to one day follow in his footsteps to play football at Clemson. Waters later played professionally with the San Diego Chargers.

While Clemson initially showed interest, some academic reporting issues changed their course and left Leonard on the outside. He chose to attend FCS South Carolina State and stayed there for his entire college career, doing all he could to show Clemson it had made a horrible mistake. He carried that same passion to prove his doubters wrong into the NFL Draft, only to have analysts decry his selection as a reach.

Since arriving in Indianapolis, he has been one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL. He has been a first and second-team All Pro, received an invitation to play in the Pro Bowl following the 2019 season, and was awarded Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2018. He has become the pulse and passion behind a Colts defense that has improved each season he has been in the league and sets the tone on game days.

Off of the field, he has a strong ties to his small hometown of Lake View, South Carolina, actively works to promote the betterment of his community, regularly visits his high school and clearly has a very playful and loving relationship with his wife Kayla.


ANTHONY WALKER

Anthony Walker | Colts Life

By contrast, Anthony Walker Jr. grew up in Miami, Florida and also feels a strong connection to his home. He grew up around football with a father who coached him in high school, and who pushed him to be his best on and off of the field, including training for the Junior Olympics as a youngster.

His path as a toddler led him to be with his father as a single parent when he was just two years old. This led to a very close relationship, one filled with respect for Anthony Walker Sr. and also the dynamic of best friends. Anthony was pushed to focus on academics first and to earn a scholarship to go to a good school, given that he was growing up in a single parent household with one income.

Walker was also snubbed by his first choice for college, as those who grow up in Miami hope to one day play at the University of Miami. His path led him much further north to Northwestern, in Chicago. Like Leonard, Walker worked hard every day to prove that he belongs on any team. He focused on the power of positive thinking and appreciated unwavering support and belief from his father to believe in himself.

Like Leonard, Walker shows a great deal of support and loyalty to his hometown and high school. His support and love is returned by the school who showers him with support when he comes into town.


TEAMMATES AND FRIENDS

The relationship Leonard and Walker have formed is well known to Colts fans. Local media members regularly ask one about the other and it brings a smile to each of their faces. They rarely avoid an opportunity to have fun at one or the other’s expense or to show active support for one another’s careers, and that extends off of the field as displayed by their activities on social media.

Over their careers together they have shown a mutual respect for their contributions on the field and consistently expressed a desire to see the other succeed. There are numerous examples of this, but some of the following clips and transcripts should help to paint an appropriate picture.

Heading into a Week 16 game in the 2019 season, Walker was interviewed and asked specifically about Leonard earning his first invitation to the Pro Bowl, after getting snubbed in his rookie season — to remind you, this was a season where he managed to earn first-team All Pro honors and Defensive Rookie of the Year but not a Pro Bowl invitation.

The press conference is available in its entirety on the Colts YouTube page by following this LINK.

Anthony you’re among teammates who are closest to Darius. You know how emotional of a guy he is. He is certainly a team above self but knowing what this meant for him after getting snubbed last year, how happy are you for Darius?

Yeah, definitely. He told me before it was announced and I was like, “you definitely deserve that.” His hard work, after getting snubbed last year, going back into grind mode. He’s had a great year, missing three games and still our leading tackler, one of the top tacklers in the NFL, his ball production is off the charts as always so yeah, just a great player all around.

He definitely earned it and that what’s I told him, he earned it. I know he’s upset that we’re not in the playoffs but I kind of pat him on the back for that one because we all know how hard he works.

It’s an individual honor, you see one name, but it is truly representative of this entire defense. Just what does that indicate for you guys and just how strongly regarded or how much more respect this defense is beginning to get across the league.

We understand this is a well rounded base defense but it doesn’t always work out where someone executes the job like he does. We understand how great of a player he is so I don’t want to shy away and say this is a defensive award, that’s a Darius Leonard award too. He definitely earned that. That’s not really a plug and play position, you’ve got to really be an animal to play that position and he’s a maniac so yeah, he definitely earned it.

I know you guys always have really fun, friendly banter, competitive banter between the two of you. You guys know where each other stands in terms of leading tackles on the team and all of that. What’s the conversation like this week, are you trying to maybe humble him a little bit? Get a few more [tackles]?

Yeah, I told him it will be very interesting after this game to see. I think he’s four ahead of me right now so I got a lot of work to do.

Leonard would return the favor by complimenting the hard work and dedication, and the on-field football intelligence of Walker. An interview in early August, before the start of the 2020 NFL Season, Leonard was asked whether playing next to Walker makes him a better player.

This full interview can be found on the Colts YouTube page by following this LINK.

Darius, we know that you and Anthony are super close. Do you feel like you are a better linebacker when he’s next to you on the field and if so, why?

Yes. When Anthony’s out there, he’s so smart. He calls out plays before it happens or if I’m misaligned he’s there to tell me “hey, get over here.” His pre-snap recognition is off the charts. We’ve been playing linebacker, been a duo together for going on three years now so we have a lot of plays where if one guy messes up and the other guy sees it, we cover for each other. We have that bond, that feel to know that he’s supposed to be here and he’s not so let me cover for him. If I see him in my position, I will take his position so it’s just that bond and the time we’ve got with each other.

Their support on the field is encouraging to see and the kind of story that any football fan would appreciate. It’s also fun to see how that friendly, competitive aspect of their relationship pushes them to get better.

In May of 2020, as teams were transitioning into a new world of social distancing and online communication, Walker agreed to an interview and spoke about the competitive nature of their relationship and his switch from jersey number 50 to number 54. A lot can go on behind the scenes to makes the changes happen, but it’s cool to see that one thing that made the switch easy for Walker is that it would get him closer to his friend Darius Leonard.

The press conference is available in its entirety on the Colts YouTube page by following this LINK.

When we talked to Darius a while back, he was kind of candid that it eats at him that you won the tackle title. I guess that’s motivation. Are you going to remind him of that, do you think that helps you motivate the maniac? Not that he needs it but do you see him more motivated because of that?

Yeah. He doesn’t need any motivation from me but it’s a competition. We know that and everything we do we try to compete with each other, to compete within our linebacker group. That’s just a mindset that we have that we feel brings out the best in all of us. Between me and Darius, we’re close friends on and off the field so it’s not really a competition. He knows that we both want each other to succeed but that’s our race. Our race is to the ball every play and I was able to get that one more time last year so I’ll take it.

Hey Anthony, I noticed that you gave up your number to Justin Houston this offseason, it’s going to be 54 now. Was that a difficult decision in the long run and I’m just curious if it was just to one-up Darius again, if he’s 53, you’re 54, if that had anything to do with it?

It has nothing to do with that, as far as me and Darius, I was actually happy to be closer to him so in the team picture we can be next to each other.

Walker doubled down on the reasons for his switch to 54 in this clip from an interview just three days after Leonard’s in early August of 2020.

The press conference is available in its entirety on the Colts.com by following this LINK.

Being one number away from Darius Leonard I’m sure play a role in that too right?

Oh yeah, for sure. I told them I had to get 52 or 54 to make it happen. Ben wasn’t giving up 52 so I’ll take 54.

Their bond has clearly continued in the 2020 season. Leonard was forced out of a game early with a groin injury in October, which left Walker to fill his position. When asked about missing Leonard on the field, Walker talked about the desire to see him get back onto the field quickly and how active he was from the sideline trying to help him play the position.

The press conference is available in its entirety on the Colts YouTube page by following this LINK.

I was wondering how unusual it is to look over and not see Darius on the field in the second half? What does it mean to you and the defense that you finished the way you did without him?

Yeah. Obviously you miss that loud voice next to you laughs but we understand that this is a physical game and we’re going to have injuries so you have to be able to have all 11 guys step up and play as one unit. We were able to do that today. Hopefully we get him back as soon as possible, that’s all I kept saying in his ear “ASAP” so we need him and we understand that.

Anthony, you mentioned missing Darius’ voice on the field. How loud was he on the sideline? Could you hear him sometimes on the field when you’re out there playing?

Yeah, I’m on the other side of the field, I slid over to the Will position and he’s telling me my job so definitely appreciative of him but again he’s our biggest fan. We understand that when he’s not playing, even when he is playing his voice is just as loud. We respect that from him, I love that he brings that energy on and off the field. Very much, respect to him.


SETTING AN EXAMPLE

Sometimes sports fans get rewarded for their loyalty to a team and to its players. For Colts fans who have been looking for positivity after losing franchise legend Peyton Manning and then seeing their young star quarterback Andrew Luck choose an early retirement, seeing young men like Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker set an example on and off of the field is rewarding.

Walker is in a contract year and is playing in one of the most talented positional rotations on the roster. There is no doubt that he has a long NFL future ahead of him and that he has an important role to play in Indianapolis. There is also no doubt that Leonard will be pushing and cheering harder than anyone to see Walker retained this offseason.

No matter what happens, you can count on the fact that Leonard and Walker will be life-long friends; they will push the other to get better, even if on another team; they will show one another support on the field and off of it; and they will remind football fans around the league that teamwork — and the lifelong bonds and personal and professional goals that come from it — is something we should all seek to find in our lives. When we do, their bond should serve as a reminder to cherish it.