The recruiting process for the Grand Valley State University football team doesn’t start and end with stats and headshots, especially when someone like Allante Leapheart walks in. When coach Matt Mitchell assesses new hires to build his team, what he’s looking for above all else is top personalities.
When Leapheart entered the transfer portal at age 28, he had already been playing football for several years at several schools. Mitchell was interested in meeting the person behind the impressive statistics Leaphart has accumulated since graduating from high school.
“He was in my office for a while and kind of went through his entire history,” Mitchell said. “(He was in) a very unique situation and we really appreciated his courage. You know he’s been through a lot, and we really saw a guy who was hungry but was humble and we thought he would be a perfect fit for our team.
The story of GVSU’s new cornerback begins as a child, growing up in the western part of Detroit with his mother, grandmother and two uncles. Leapheart was always told from an early age to focus on school by her grandmother, who was a third grade teacher.
“I was pretty much a mother’s son; really grandma’s boy, ”said Leapheart. “I love my grandma. She made me realize that school was going to be the way out because you know we lived in a not so good neighborhood, so she was like, ‘This is gonna be your way out of it all. ‘And she was right.
It wasn’t until he was old enough to throw a soccer ball that his uncle signed him up to play. As a born athlete, Leapheart can’t remember a time when football was not always a part of his life. He remembers being around the game, whether it was seeing his uncles play on Friday with his grandmother, watching him on Sunday with his family, or wishing he was old enough to play quarterback. .
When her grandmother died, Leapheart was only ten years old. With his departure, that never stopped Leapheart from listening to his advice and he found a way to honor her.
Graduating from high school in 2011, Leapheart and his family were determined to encourage him to try for the Grand Rapids Community College football team. However, due to the circumstances of his family life, he made the bold and courageous decision to stay and help his mother. Still, for him, it wasn’t a decision at all.
“It was just easy for me to do,” said Leapheart. “Even though I love football, I love my mother even more. My mom wanted me to go to school because she wanted me to get away from it all. I felt like if I ran away and she ended up in a bad place, I would have felt bad. I just felt like I needed to do it.
Once her mother settled in with her new husband after Leapheart spent around four years working odd jobs and helping with bills, Leapheart finally made the jump to college, ending up in Ukiah, in California, at a college called Mendocino.
The season has been simply rewarding after his football break. Leapheart had five interceptions and 49 tackles, earning him all-conference honors.
“I went from a really good first year, having really good schools, power fives and stuff looking at me, to not even having a team in a month,” said Leapheart.
Mendocino College has ended its football program due to a lack of on-campus housing and affordable living costs for student-athletes. Leapheart’s opportunity shattered in what seemed like times when he had regained his passion.
Amid the frustration and hardship with this string of bad news, Leapheart received a call from his home informing him that one of Leapheart’s closest family members had been shot and killed and the shooter had failed. never been found. Along with the devastation and fury at losing his uncle, he also found incredible motivation to study sociology with the hope of one day becoming an investigator.
“Seeing the pain and suffering of my family, my mother and my other uncle, and never having the satisfaction of knowing that the person did this to my family and got justice (it was heartbreaking),” said Leapheart. “I want to be the person who gets it right and be able to tell the family that we found the person who did this.”
After reuniting with her mother, Leapheart decided to continue honoring her family’s wishes and continued to chase football. Luckily, a friend of hers lived just 20 minutes from another college in California, Santa Rosa, and together they made it their new home. Unfortunately, in the first few weeks of training Leapheart found himself in a dire scenario for any athlete.
“I went to catch a ball, and when I walked, I don’t know, I guess I just walked too hard without bending my leg, and my knee just kicked back,” Leapheart said. “I tore my ACL during a training session. It was so depressing. This is probably one of the most difficult things I have had to deal with.
Another year had passed, filled with pre-education and MRI scans, only to spend time alone, take care of himself, and work hard on his studies. Hope was far from fading for Leapheart, however.
During the 2018 season he returned to the field for another good race. 37 tackles and four interceptions in 10 games and he graduated with an associate’s degree in sociology.
From California, Leapheart decided to transfer to Eastern Kentucky University to play on their Division I team and complete her bachelor’s degree in sociology, also adding a minor in criminal justice. Leapheart has not only had an incredibly successful two years at EKU, but has also found some of her longtime best friends.
“I loved it when I was at Eastern,” Leapheart said. “I made some great friends. (I found) one of the best friends of my life and I guess it all happens for a reason. Before that, I would never have been to a lake or a river where guys were driving their trucks in the river; It was crazy.”
In the company of his new and Luke Combs-like friends, Leapheart played in every game for two consecutive seasons. In 21 games, he had 63 tackles and three interceptions.
His days at the cornerback were far from over. Leapheart entered the transfer portal and was hunted down by several schools, none of which made her feel more than just a statistic as much as the coaching staff at GVSU.
“I had a really good conversation with Coach Mitchell,” said Leapheart. “He’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He is a very good coach and he knows very well the needs of the players. I wonder ‘what are you going to do to help me improve as a player and as a person.’ ”
This season, Leapheart joins the Lakers as a cornerback, and he’s playing with the same amount of strength, courage and dedication as his entire life. His views for the NFL haven’t faded either, and despite his age, he has no reason to believe this may be his last year playing football.
“He’s a low maintenance guy and I think part of that comes from his age, maturity and background,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a young person trying to understand. He has it.
Leapheart’s journey to GVSU has been a series of obstacles, heartaches and victories, but that’s what makes him the person he is today and the person the Lakers have welcomed to the team. . After already three transfers, Leapheart’s final transition to GVSU holds a little more value for him and his teammates as he prepares to graduate.
“I say to my uncle all the time, like ‘dude, if it wasn’t for you I don’t know where I would be in my life,’” Leapheart said. “When you walk into that field, it’s like, man, it’s not something that everyone can do every day. I’m lucky to be able to do it again and enjoy it, have fun, and honestly love it.
His goals for this season are similar to Mitchell’s. Leapheart wants a fantastic year with full stadiums, game highlights and an environment that will pay for everything he’s been through coming here.
“(I hope) to be a great player, to be a great teammate, to help Grand Valley achieve whatever we can and be remembered,” said Leapheart. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t give it a try yet.” You are good enough.
With the football career he’s had, being good enough is the least of Leapheart’s worries. At the end of his senior year, Leapheart will not be forgotten among the Lakers and all the other schools he attended before. He plans to attend Pro Day this year, but whether he ends up playing for an NFL team, in an overseas league, coaching, or just focusing on his journey to be an investigator, he will still have football. in his life.