BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
The 2007 football season will be one that Hawaii linebacker Adam Leonard won't likely forget.
Leonard was a key ingredient in the Warriors' Western Athletic Conference championship, which included dethroning five-time champion Boise State, and the team's march to the Sugar Bowl, the Warriors' first-ever Bowl Championship Series performance.
What can Leonard, who registered 105 tackles and intercepted four passes, two of which were returned for scores, do for an encore?
Most may say not much. Obviously they don't know Leonard. The Warriors' outside linebacker plays the game with a fervor, and he expects the same out of his teammates. His top goal is for the Warriors to repeat as WAC champs.
Off the field, he is well-mannered and extremely well spoken. On the field, he has the nasty disposition you like your linebackers to have. He said nothing makes him happier than to hear a running back, quarterback or wide receiver moan after taking a hit.
He plays with a constant motor, and new coach Greg McMackin, the team's former defensive coordinator, loves him for it.
"Adam was outstanding last year," McMackin said. "He's one of the best in the league. He is good enough to play inside or outside, but I have him outside because he has a feel for the passing game better."
Leonard just has a nose for the ball. Besides returning interceptions for scores against Charleston Southern and Idaho last season, he also recorded 10 or more tackles six different times, including a career best 12 against Louisiana Tech and Utah State. That kind of productivity helped him get selected as a preseason Butkus Award candidate.
Hawaii's defense was much-improved under McMackin, finishing the season No. 2 in scoring defense (25.5), No. 1 in third-down conversions (29.8 percent), No. 1 in pass defense (111.3 efficiency) and No. 2 in rushing defense.
"I feel more pressure," said Leonard, who battled through off-season surgery on a torn meniscus. "The defense got a lot more attention (last year), and people expect us to play at a high level. Coach McMackin is a big defensive guy, and that guarantees us more attention. You can even see it now."
Not only did McMackin bring two defensive players to this year's WAC Football Preview, but he put his top defensive players on this year's media guide.
Leonard, like most of the Hawaii players has "rock star" status around Honolulu. Probably not as much as Colt Brennan mind you, but it's hard for him to get through a meal without an autograph request or two.
Not bad for a guy that Hawaii didn't actually recruit.
Leonard, who prepped at Rainier Beach High in Seattle, tore his anterior cruciate ligament three weeks into his senior season. He had a verbal agreement with Washington, but that was pulled.
"Some JC coaches called me," Leonard said. "Dixie State (in Salt Lake City area) wanted me. City College of San Francisco was interested. I told them I wasn't really interested, and that I wanted to go to a Division I school."
Hawaii eventually offered, and it's worked out great for the Warriors and Leonard.