MINNEAPOLIS – Brian Leonhardt wasn’t sure if he had what it took to play in the NFL.
The former Bemidji State tight end participated in the University of Minnesota’s pro day March 4, where he worked with Vikings tight end coach Jimmie Johnson and caught passes from former Gopher quarterback MarQueis Gray.
“It was pretty cool,” Leonhardt said of the experience at pro day. “I think I’ll find out a little more about which teams may want me by the end of March, but it was a great experience.”
According to the website NFLdraftscout.com, Leonhardt is currently ranked No. 45 out of 110 tight ends who have declared for the draft. That number may fluctuate depending on which site you visit, but the fact that Leonhardt has a legitimate shot at making an NFL roster at all is still something of as shock to him.
BSU head coach Jeff Tesch is glad Leonhardt is getting his shot.
“He’s put in a lot of effort, both here at BSU and on his own time,” Tesch said.
Before this season, though, the 6-foot-5 Blaine native wasn’t sure he had the stuff to make a pro roster.
Then he went to Texas.
Leonhardt graduated from BSU in December and almost immediately moved to the Lone Star State to train for his shot in the NFL.
“I think I really kind of figured out I was up to NFL standards when I started working with some of those guys,” Leonhardt said.
He was working with fellow NFL prospects – many who played Division I ball – and some current NFL players at 4th & Inches Sports Performance, a training facility in Irving, Texas.
“Once I got in there I started to think, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this!’”
Leonhardt put up some big numbers his four years as a Beaver, including 15 career touchdowns (eighth all-time at BSU), 112 career receptions (10th) and 1,431 reception yards (second among BSU tight ends).
He was also named to two different All-America teams, including his senior year in 2012. He battled injury for much of his senior season but still started in 10 games and helped lead the team to a 7-4 season and a division championship.
Still, Leonhardt knew that Division II football was a whole different ballgame from the NFL.
That was especially true after he was invited to participate in the Texas vs. The Nation Game.
He was one of the few non-Division I players invited to participate in the college all-star game held Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas.
“I mean, you just look at the roster there and the guys I was playing against are better than most of the guys you play against in the NSIC,” Leonhardt said.
The names on the front of the jerseys didn’t much matter, however. Despite playing against guys from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, Leonhardt earned the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player award with four catches for 62 yards in the Nation’s 24-13 win.
“It was do-or-die,” Leonhard said of playing well in the game. “If I wasn’t going to play well, I may not get a chance at all.”
The two weeks or so of practice, he said, were almost more stressful than the game itself.
“The scouts were watching everything,” he said. “I mean, they’d watch us eat between practices, too. They were packed into the stands.”
With his standout performance in the all-star game and a solid showing at the pro day, Leonhardt said he wasn’t sure what to expect. But he thinks BSU has prepared him well.
“Everything about BSU has been amazing,” he said. “Coming from a Division II school, a lot of guys don’t get this opportunity. But the coaching staff here has prepared me well.”
“We just hope he gets his opportunity to make a pro camp,” Tesch added. “It sounds like he’s going to get it. We’re very happy for him.”