By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal
NATCHITOCHES – When Houston Christian’s first-quarter pass settled into Keenan Leachman’s hands, the Northwestern State safety flashed back to his high school days in Baton Rouge.
“I turned into a little running back,” said Leachman, who produced the second of NSU’s two first-quarter interceptions last Saturday night in Houston. “I missed a lane I could have taken to score, but it’s all good.”
A fifth-year junior, Leachman nearly turned his first career interception into a pick-6 but came up 3 yards short. While Leachman’s 37-yard interception return set up the final score of the Demons’ 24-point first quarter, he caught an earful from a multitude of sources.
“My brother texted me at halftime and said, ‘You’ve got to score that,’” Leachman said. “The team was on me as soon as I hit the sideline, telling me I should have scored.”
Leachman did not score on his first career interception, which was a long time coming for the Central High School product.
A 5-foot-11, 215-pound safety, Leachman secured the milestone interception in his 35th career game – a timeline that saw him shift between linebacker and safety as well as play exclusively on special teams in his redshirt freshman season of 2019.
Having found a home at safety, Leachman was among the Demons’ defensive playmakers who helped hold Houston Christian to 267 yards, more than 70 yards below its season average.
“We talk about how you never know when the opportunity is going to come,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “He had to fight his way back. He was a starter (at the beginning of the year) and got hurt, but he continued to work. That was a big interception for him and a big momentum play for us, not only the interception but returning it to the 3-yard line. Two plays later, we scored.”
Leachman opened the season as the Demons’ starting rover before suffering an early-season injury. Despite the knicks and bruises of the season, he has recorded 12 tackles to go along with his first career interception.
As a veteran on an experienced defense, Leachman has emerged as one of the leaders on that side of the ball – the proof of which can be heard as much as seen.
“The younger guys call me ‘Unc’ now, and that makes me feel really old,” said Leachman, who turned 23 this past Wednesday. “I used to be the younger guy calling the older guys ‘Unc.’ It’s different now seeing it from a different perspective. People are always watching you to make sure you do the little things right.”
On and off the field, Leachman has eyes on him across Northwestern’s campus.
He is the president of the Theta Delta chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, giving him added responsibilities as an on-campus leader.
“You see the impact he has not just being in the fraternity but making a big impact on what they do on campus,” Laird said. “It’s good to see. He’s really done a good job balancing what he does on and off the field along with his studies.”
Leachman reiterated a similarity between campus leadership and his position as a Demon football player.
“The little things,” he said. “People pay attention to everything. Being in a fraternity, there are a lot of eyes on you. The way you carry yourself is a big factor.”
Like Leachman, the Demons (3-4) have carried themselves from an unsure beginning to a better place entering Saturday’s Homecoming game against No. 16/18 Southeast Missouri (5-1). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Turpin Stadium.
“We’re both fighting adversity,” Leachman said of parallels between his career and the Demons’ 2022 season. “We started 0-3, won a couple at home, lost one on the road and came back and won last week. Me, fighting through injuries and persevering, I feel it’s been the same for us. I was under-recruited and fighting through, trying to be the best.
“Everyone has a chip on their shoulder and wants to prove everybody wrong and show them we’re a different team this year.”
Contact Jason at email@example.com