Patrick Chalvire/Asst. Sports Director
Under the grueling South Florida sun Thursday morning, the Panthers continued to move on from their dismal 1-11 season and look forward to a new and improved 2014 year.
The second year in Conference USA will in fact be the first for defensive back and return specialist Richard Leonard, who missed the 2013 season due to off the field issues. Arguably the Panthers best cover corner and kick returner, Leonard looks to move on from the past and return to leading the team.
“It’s a team thing so if I’m doing good, everybody else gotta be doing good with me,” said Leonard.
The Miami native currently holds the school record for longest kick return for a touchdown, going 100 yards against rival Florida Atlantic on November 2012.
Despite not playing in a single game, Leonard did participate in team activities, including practices, last season and second year Head Coach Ron Turner feels that will be beneficial if they hope to overcome their past.
“He’s worked on all our drills, all our techniques, all our fundamentals, all our schemes, sat in every meeting, he’s just like all the other guys,” said Turner. “He’s got experience so he’s got a real good feel for what we’re doing.”
Though he already has his name in the school’s record books, Leonard is still hungry for more. Along with being back on the field and having fun with his teammates, he has both a personal and team goal he hopes to achieve by the end of the year.
“My goal is to be the best defensive back in the nation, and team goal, just make it to a bowl game and win,” said Leonard.
On offense, quarterback E.J Hilliard will lead the Panthers for the first time in his career. Though it is his job to keep, according to Turner, Hilliard will be feeling competition from freshman Alex McGough.
“[Hillard] is getting the reps with the first team but it’s still a competition,” said Turner.
Hilliard was the backup last season behind starting QB Jake Medlock, who transferred to Valdosta State, and also has two years of prior experience. Bud Martin, Akil Dan-Fodio, Luke Medlock and walk-on Ryan Walker will compete for the third QB spot.
For those who care for athlete’s numbers, junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon will be wearing number 7, formerly that of Jacksonville Jaguar star Johnathan Cyprien and former Panther Anthony Gaitor.
Junior receiver Dominique Rhymes and freshman receiver and kick returner Dennis Turner are also expected to make some noise as they have both been frequently targeted during camp.
Wednesday the Panthers practiced with shoulder pads for the first time during camp. Friday morning will be the first time they practice in full pads.