When you think of NFL players who have formerly played other sports at a junior level, you think of speedy quarterbacks…(or Nick Foles, who gets heralded for his basketball prowess in every broadcast he appears in), powerful running backs or tall receivers who can make those tough catches. If I were to tell you that there’s one prospect who played both Basketball and Baseball growing up, but is entering the NFL Draft as an offensive lineman, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But there is.
Tulane’s John Leglue isn’t just another tackle prospect. At 6’7, 298 lbs, he brings freakish athleticism to the table along with an abundance of versatility…much of that, the five-year collegiate player puts down to what those other sports taught him at High School.
“I feel like each sport brings a different perspective and a different mindset.” Leglue told me one evening. “Basketball helped me get quicker on my feet, baseball helped with my hand-eye coordination. I feel like that helped me become the player I am today. When I first started playing basketball, they taught you to sit in front of a guy, take a charge or screen and it’s very similar to pass-protection, you’re trying to get between the QB and defense to make sure they don’t make the sack. It’s that mindset of moving your feet to get in front. It gives you a great foundation to transition and understand what it means to compete at a high level.”
Leglue grew up in Louisiana going to High School and College games, with his family all fans of the LSU Tigers. From a young age, he knew that he wanted to be a professional athlete. He just wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be slugging in the majors or pancaking in the pros. His Mother would make an avid point of ensuring her son puts education first and sport second. This is something that would ultimately lead to his arrival at Tulane.
A sudden growth spurt between 8th/9th grade saw a prospect who wasn’t heavily recruited, suddenly surge into opportunity. After his sophomore season, competition between local schools heated up and it came down to Lafayette or Tulane. But for Leglue, the decision was an easy one.
“Tulane were moving to the AAC, a bigger conference with more exposure. I felt it competes well with the other conferences in college football. It was my best opportunity to compete with the best and get a great education.”
When he got to college however, he was immediately met with an obstacle. Being asked to redshirt can be a humbling experience for anyone and Leglue was no exception. But instead of getting annoyed about it, he used that year as a window to prepare himself for a much bigger opportunity. He didn’t start playing the tackle position until his senior season at High School, having spent most of his career as a tight end. Coming to Tulane as an offensive tackle was bound to bring a steep learning curve, but it was one he met head-on.
“They wanted me to develop more in the weight room.” He said. ” I told everyone else redshirting to keep their heads up and trust what the coaches are doing. They’ve been there, they understand. There are a lot of teammates who graduated this year who wish they had a fifth year. You have a whole year to develop, learn the playbook. I was very blessed to have that year.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t know what a vertical set was, or a 45 set. I understand how defenses work better now, the reasoning behind play calls and stuff like that a lot better now.”
He used that year to work closely with his teammates after practices, pulling them into the film room so they can understand why coaches are being a little harder on them during the week. Instead of shouting aimlessly, Leglue worked hard to find one-on-one time with his teammates when possible.
As an 18-year old, Leglue would go out onto the field around 20 minutes before anyone else each practice in order to work on his sets and refine what is an entirely new layer of offensive play. That’s where the passion really began to flourish. A technician in every sense of the word, the attention to detail, extra hours spent in the film room and strong work ethic have helped to create a very well-rounded lineman who truly excels when the lights are brightest. Leglue credits that redshirt season for much of his recent success due to the fact he was able to learn what those ahead of him were doing right/wrong and ensure he learns how to correct key mistakes before his time arrives.
During that time, he practiced day in and day out against Royce LaFrance. A ferocious pass-rusher who had 13.5 TFL in his senior season and 6.5 sacks and a man who has since caught on with the New Orleans Saints.
“He had a whole array of pass rush moves.” Leglue mentioned when looking back on that redshirt year. “I watch a lot of film to understand my opponent. The moves he does, whether it’s right foot back, 6 inches back, you can find all these tendencies and just knowing what the defense is gonna give you is a huge part of my game.”
It rapidly became clear just how much Leglue puts value into the intricacies of his game. From hand-placement and anchoring, to the subtleties in game planning so he can help his line during a game, it’s like a science to this young man and it shows.
His first start came against Memphis in 2015…but what happened over the next few years would be unpredictable. Starting out at Right Tackle in 2016 under a new coaching staff, it wouldn’t be long before adversity set in. The team’s center broke his ankle in week 3 and Leglue was asked to move inside. He would start nine games at center in a year where the Green Wave’s rushing offense ranked fourth in The American and 27th in the nation, averaging 228.1 yards per game.
One year later, he played one game at left tackle and nine on the other side of the bookshelf. During his time at Tulane, he’s played at every single spot on the offensive line while the program rose from the ashes of a 3-9 record, to a Bowl game last season. As the underclassmen began to look up to Leglue as this encyclopedia of knowledge and technical prowess, he started to nurture that responsibility ahead of his senior season.
“The year before, we were one game short of going to a bowl game. All the Seniors came together and decided we wanted to go to a bowl game and compete for a championship. We ended up splitting the West championship with Memphis and Houston, but we ended up going to a bowl game. If any of us wanted to go the NFL, we had to win in this conference and show we could compete with the best. I feel like as Seniors, we laid a great foundation. Tulane is on the rise again and being able to be one of the five teams to win a bowl game, to see us getting better and better each year, that’s the main takeaway. We learned how to deal with adversity. Not many coming out of college can say they endured a 3-9 season and ended up in a bowl game. I wanted to emphasize that no matter what the score was, I always, always, going to battle my ass off.”
When Tulane finally got to a Bowl game, the sense of excitement was understandably high, but not just for the game. Leglue recalls the sense of togetherness the team felt throughout the entire week and just how important that was.
“There’s a lot of guys on the team who have never been blessed enough to go on a family vacation. We stayed at Universal Studios and I think everybody got a lot out of it, whether you played or not. The energy on the sideline, everybody was amped up. We rushed for over 300 yards and moved the ball really well. I was glad to end my career at Tulane with one of my best games.”
His senior season as a whole, was a big one. Playing against Ohio State’s record-selling crowd of 102,000 and of course helping guide Tulane to their first Bowl victory, Leglue left a legacy of hard work and progression behind. After an emotional goodbye to a School that saw Leglue go from a former tight end to one of the most fundamentally sound offensive linemen in his conference all attention now turns to the NFL Draft and his Pro Day, which takes place at the team’s facility on March 21st.
Teams are already beginning to perk their ears at the idea of a player who can play just about anywhere and bring such an impressive amount of athleticism to the table. After his Mother kept John on the right track, focusing on Plan A, it’s safe to say Plan B is well on its way to unraveling into an exciting new chapter.
Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire via AP Images