DANFORTH — Cannon Leonard’s college football signing process reached a significant stage Monday.
The prospective Iroquois West senior had 13 offers received that day.
That’s 13 programs that want offensive tackle to join their ranks and influence their product on the field in the same way it did for coach Jason Thiele’s Raiders at Gilman.
Then came the 14th offer. Straight from longtime Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
“On that four-hour drive home (from Iowa City), it was me and my parents and we really talked about it,” Leonard said. “I was ready to move on and commit as soon as I left. But I just wanted to take some time, digest all the information, come home, just let things be taken care of.”
About 26 hours after the Hawkeyes’ offer was publicly announced, Leonard followed his first instinct.
Leonard made a verbal commitment to Iowa Tuesday afternoon, giving his family a second Big Ten football presence. His older brother, 2022 Iroquois West alumnus Clayton, is a new offensive lineman for Bret Bielema in Illinois.
“It’s amazing, especially (since) me and my brother are the ones doing this,” said Cannon Leonard, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound athlete. “It’s just very special. I’ve worked hard for it since I’ve been playing football since, I think, my first year. It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the next level.”
Leonard’s other offers came from Army, Ball State, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Fordham, Illinois State, Long Island, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, and Yale.
Illinois has not officially offered Leonard, although the Illini are listed as interested parties on Leonard’s Rivals page along with Cincinnati, Iowa State, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern, Purdue and Western Michigan.
Regardless, the Leonard brothers will not be teammates at the college level. They will be regular opponents instead.
“[Clayton]really helped me,” Cannon Leonard said. “He didn’t have the same recruitment process because of COVID … but he just helped me search and see what would be best for me.”
Cannon Leonard and his older brother were key players on offense and defense last fall for Iroquois West, which won 8-3 and qualified for the IHSA postseason for the first time since 2006.
Leonard helped the team average 31.8 points per game as a junior with his play in the offensive ditch. He also delivered 36 tackles, 10 quarterback rushes, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a blocked punt on defense.
This earned him a nod from the News-Gazette All-Area soccer team. He was also in both offense and defense of the first-team All-Vermilion Valley Conference. Leonard is listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals and a two-start contender by 247sports.
Leonard was also an All-Area boys basketball junior as a center and an All-Area boys track and field honorable mention as a pitcher during the recently completed school year.
“[Signing now]will really allow me to focus on being with my team, getting better and preparing for the season ahead,” Leonard said. “It’s no longer visits every weekend or camps every weekend.”
Leonard’s first official visit to Iowa City was in connection with the Hawkeyes’ 23-20 win over Penn State on October 9, 2021. He said Iowa offensive line coach George Barnett — a former assistant coach at Illinois State and a graduate assistant at Illinois — was the key recruiter.
“He came over to[Iroquois West]this spring and spoke to the staff and just really wanted me to come to their camp this summer,” Leonard said. “I went to camp two weeks ago … and he and the rest of the coaching staff were just really impressed with how I showed up and how I just went out there and showed them what I’ve got.”
Leonard said Barnett called the day after that camp to set up another visit for Leonard and his parents.
“They walked me to the facility, showed me around the stadium, sat down and talked a little bit about football,” Leonard said. “It’s always been a consistent top school in the Big Ten, and they’re known for offensive line play. To be honest it was one of my dream schools.”
Leonard is the latest in a line of local small school footballers to find homes with a Power 5 college program in recent years, joining the likes of his older brother, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley graduate student Aidan Laughery (Illinois, on freshman) and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond senior-to-be Kaden Feagin (Illinois Commitment).
“It’s great to show that small town kids like us can play football at the highest level,” Leonard said. “Not only does it put us in a great position, but it could help open doors for other kids to get out of schools like ours.”