FB Program Feature: Becoming the Elite Specialist
Oct. 14, 2013
Becoming the Elite Specialist
In recent years Houston Football has had a reputation of showcasing an explosive offense. So much so that if a punter dared to step on the field the crowd immediately started to grumble. Richie Leone has changed those feelings in his four years at Houston.
A fresh-faced kid from Roswell, Georgia, Richie Leone has started since the day he arrived on campus. In his freshman year, he started all 12 games for the Cougars. At the end of his of his sophomore year, he was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy National Punter of the Year Award.
His growth has translated in more areas than just football.
“I have grown exponentially I think but not only as a football player but also as a man in the game of life,” Leone recalls. “I have been blessed by the people of this program to help me do so.” His junior year the Cougars started the season with a new coach, but for Leone this was a very familiar individual. Tony Levine took over the Cougars before the TicketCity Bowl following the end of the 2011 regular season. Levine just so happened to be the same guy who recruited Leone to be the anchor around the special teams.
“Coach Levine and I have a tremendous relationship that started from day one in the summer of 2009. Once I met him and spent time with him I knew he was the coach I wanted to play for.” Leone said. “He is the best coach in college football and also is a coach who I can call a friend and mentor. He has taught me a lot about football but most importantly about life. He is a coach that you want to be around and learn from.”
Having a special teams-minded head coach has greatly benefited Leone for the transition he made this offseason. Leone was used primarily for punting and kickoffs, but this season he’s the one-man band of the special teams unit. He is the punter, the kickoff man, and now the field goal kicker for Houston. Leone does it all.
With a coach who prides himself in special teams it’s important for him to utilize Levine’s wisdom at every chance. “I am so lucky to have a head coach who is special teams-minded. There is not a coach in the NCAA who knows more about the mechanics of kicking and punting than Coach Levine,” Leone states. “The emphasis he places on special teams is a great advantage to myself and the whole team. Each week he stresses how special teams can win and lose games, so with the preparation that goes on throughout the week, he and Coach Jamie Christian put us in the best position to dominate on special teams.”
Leone has taken this new responsibility of putting points on the board and equally embraced the challenge. So far this season, 45 points have come off the right foot of Leone. He’s made nine field goals this season and is a perfect 18-for-18 on extra points attempts. Although he’s had early success, he learned quickly that kicking field goals comes with added pressure. Trying to give your team a lead is a completely different scenario compared to pinning an opponent inside the ten. Week two against Temple, Leone drilled five field goals, but his mentality on how he approached scoring opportunities changed.
“The Temple game really opened my eyes in that sense. I didn’t envision that game going the way it did because I am so used to kicking a few punts and kickoffs. I’m thankful that it happened early in the year to prepare me for games like that down the stretch,” Leone said.
The transition for Leone becoming the all-around specialist is something that is rare in college football. This is a true testament for not only how hard he has worked to perfect his craft, but how much confidence the coaching staff has in their senior kicker. So how has the transition treated the four-year starter? Well it’s safe to say he has embraced the opportunity to perform as one of the nation’s elite specialists.
“First off, it is a lot more fun. Holding the three positions gets you a lot more involved in the game and less standing around on the sidelines.” Leone said. “It’s a real challenge to manage it during the week in practice because you want to be as fresh as possible for the game and with our offense I can have up to 10 kickoffs per game.”
Since earning the punting job as a freshman, Leone has yet to let it go, and in the process has earned more titles along the way.
It’s accurate to say that Tony Levine made an excellent choice when he sat in Leone’s living room four years ago. A 2012 First Team Conference USA award winner, a two-time Ray Guy semifinalist, Leone will go down as one of the best to ever play his position at the University of Houston. The awards mean a lot, but there is one goal Leone wants to be remembered for:
“I want to be remembered by being a vital part of the team that won the 2014 Orange Bowl.”