DANFORTH — Cannon Leonard’s college football commitment process reached a significant stage on Monday.
The Iroquois West senior-to-be possessed 13 offers entering the day.
That’s 13 programs wanting the offensive tackle to join their ranks and impact their on-field product in the same fashion he has for coach Jason Thiele’s Raiders in Gilman.
Then the 14th offered arrived. Directly from longtime Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
“On that four-hour car ride home (from Iowa City), it was me and my parents and we really discussed it,” Leonard said. “I was ready to ahead and commit as soon as I left. But I just wanted to take some time, digest all the information, come back home, just let it all settle.”
About 26 hours after publicly announcing the Hawkeyes’ offer, Leonard followed through on his first instinct.
Leonard verbally committed to Iowa on Tuesday afternoon, giving his family a second Big Ten football presence. His older brother, 2022 Iroquois West alumnus Clayton, is an incoming freshman offensive lineman for Bret Bielema at Illinois.
“It’s amazing, especially (since) me and my brother are the ones doing this,” said Cannon Leonard, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound athlete. “It’s just real special. I’ve been working hard for this since, I guess I could say my first year playing football. It’s always been a dream of mine to go play at the next level.”
Leonard’s other offers came from Army, Ball State, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Fordham, Illinois State, Long Island, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and Yale.
Illinois didn’t officially offer Leonard, though the Illini are listed along with Cincinnati, Iowa State, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern, Purdue and Western Michigan on Leonard’s Rivals page as interested parties.
Regardless, the Leonard brothers will not be teammates at the college level. They’ll instead be regular opponents.
“(Clayton) really helped me out,” Cannon Leonard said. “He didn’t have the same recruiting process because of COVID … but he just helped me look and see what was going to be best for me.”
Cannon Leonard and his older brother were key presences on the offensive and defensive lines last fall for Iroquois West, which went 8-3 and qualified for the IHSA postseason for the first time since 2006.
Leonard helped the team average 31.8 points per game as a junior with his play in the offensive trench. He also provided 36 tackles, 10 quarterback hurries, one sack, one fumble recovery and one blocked punt on defense.
This earned him a News-Gazette All-Area football second-team nod. He also was first-team All-Vermilion Valley Conference on both offense and defense. Leonard is listed as a three-star recruit by Rivals and a two-start prospect by 247sports.
Leonard also was an All-Area boys’ basketball second-team choice as a center and an All-Area boys’ track and field honorable-mention selection as a thrower during the recently-completed school year.
“(Committing now) will really allow me to focus on being with my team, getting better and getting ready for the season coming up,” Leonard said. “It’s no more visits every weekend or camps every weekend.”
Leonard’s first official visit to Iowa City occurred in conjunction with the Hawkeyes’ 23-20 win over Penn State on Oct. 9, 2021. He said Iowa offensive line coach George Barnett — previously an assistant coach at Illinois State and a graduate assistant at Illinois — has been the primary recruiter.
“This spring, he came to (Iroquois West) and talked with the staff and just really wanted me to come to their camp this summer,” Leonard said. “I went up to the camp two weeks ago … and him and the rest of the coaching staff was just really impressed with how I competed and how I just went out and showed them what I had.”
Leonard said Barnett reached out the day after that camp to schedule another visit for Leonard and his parents.
“They walked me to the facility, showed me the stadium, sat down and talked football for a little bit,” Leonard said. “It’s always been a perennial top school in the Big Ten, and they’re known for the offensive line play. To be honest, it was one of my dream schools.”
Leonard is the latest in a line of local small-school football players to find a home with a Power 5 college program during the last few years, joining the likes of his older brother, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley alumnus Aidan Laughery (Illinois incoming freshman) and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond senior-to-be Kaden Feagin (Illinois commit).
“To really show that small-town kids like us can go play high-level football at the next level is great,” Leonard said. “It not only puts us in great positions, but it could help open doors for other kids to come out of schools like ours.”