Aug 10, 2011, 12:07 PM EDT
After a tremendous 2009 season that resulted in his first trip to the Pro Bowl, former Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver suffered a horrific dual injury that tore his ACL and nerves in the back of his knee that resulted in a ‘dead foot.’ Josiah Schlatter sat down with Weaver to discuss his long road back to the NFL. Weaver was cut by the Eagles the day after the interview following a failed physical.
During the 2009 season, you didn’t really get too many carries early on as a fullback until all of the running backs got hurt. How did you convince Andy to give you those carries and essentially save the running game?
Oh man, well one day after Brian Westbrook went down, there was a lot of pressure on Shady McCoy, who was a rookie who didn’t quite understand the whole dynamic of the offense just yet. So I proposed the idea to Andy for a veteran such as myself to step in. I reminded Andy that he didn’t bring me in to be a typical fullback to block, he brought me in based on what he saw on film. I can run and block and catch the ball.
We talked and he gave me the opportunity and the door was wide open, so I did my part in any way to win the division.
Did you always know you had the ability to be that Jerome Bettis type of quality running back who could get some carries and really impress people?
Oh yeah. I’ve always known I had that ability. I just had to show other people around the league that I could do it. One thing you understand about the league, once you’re labeled it’s hard to shake that. With the fullback label it’s ON YOU. They think you’re a big guy who can’t move side to side and all he does is block for people well.
But I wanted to change the game. There are a lot of guys out there who are fullbacks who run the ball as well as block and catch passes well, and one of those guys happened to be me.
Just because you’re a fullback doesn’t you don’t have talents too.
You actually made the Pro Bowl in 2009. Is that something you were expecting?
No! Well, ah, I can’t lie. I did expect to go to the Pro Bowl. Every player in the league expects to have a great year and go to the Pro Bowl. It just so happened that the way things worked out it was just a great blessing. My peers knew enough about me and my fans did too, and other coaches who I played against knew enough to realize I belonged there. It was a blessing.
You were there when Mike Vick came in as an Eagle for the first time. You saw the first incarnation of Vick with the Eagles. Everybody was saying back then that, ‘Oh, Vick isn’t as fast, he doesn’t have it anymore. Who knows if he’ll ever do anything good again.’ When you first saw him, what was your opinion?
He was definitely a little overweight. He was out of shape, that’s for sure. First practice back, people were definitely trying to pick him off. He was trying to show he could do all his stuff again. But it was great to see him transition from where he used to be to where he is now. Not only as a person but also getting his status back as a player. He went from nothing to Michael Vick again, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us this year.
Ability is something that won’t go away too easily. I don’t care what he does, he can do anything in the world, the fact of the matter is he’s a changed guy who was given a second chance by God and he’s been able to take full advantage by showing the people who believed in him that they had a reason to do it. I thank God for giving him another opportunity to show people, and to show himself and the people who believed in him that they were right for doing it.
One big thing I noticed about your game is perseverance. You were an undrafted free agent fullback, made it all the way to the Pro Bowl only to suffer that horrific knee injury in the first week of the season in 2010. How big is perseverance in your game?
(Exhales). Wow. Perseverance, it’s a huge part of my life. It’s not something that everybody has, it’s not something that everybody can do. I thank God for putting that seed in me, because it’s very difficult. During that time you experience things that make you want to quit, you experience doubts and you go through things where you feel like you’ll never be who you used to be. To be able to have a testimony like the one I have just speaks volumes about how much God cares about me. It’s a blessing.
A lot of guys in the position of a rookie undrafted free agent are thinking, ‘Man, I don’t really have too much of a shot to make this team.’ What showed the coaches that you deserved to be on the team?
I surrounded myself with guys who were consummate professionals. There was Shaun Alexander, there was Mack Strong. These guys were all star professionals, and to have that example in front of me made things a little bit better. Great guys to follow, that was very key. I learned how to follow in their footsteps and showed the team that I belonged.
Do you think under different circumstances without great leadership from Alexander and Mack, things could have been different for you?
I think I would have made it regardless. But those guys helped show me what it was all about. I didn’t really believe too much in me at first, but then a young man by the name of Stump Mitchell who was my coach believed in me more than I believed in myself and he made life difficult but easy. Difficult from the standpoint of pulling my skills out of me, and easy because he gave me the understanding that me, myself, as a player and as a person, have the skills to succeed. Without that I don’t know if I’d have become the player I am today.
He was constantly fighting for me, and Mike Holmgren and those guys believed in me and gave me the opportunity, and I can’t thank them enough.
I think one of the biggest keys to success in life is to have that guy who believes in you. Nothing better than a fatherly figure who comes out of nowhere to tell you, “You know what, you may not believe in yourself right now, but I do.”
It’s huge, man. Real huge. In the NFL when you’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to be, that played a huge part in my life. I was extremely blessed because someone like that was put in my life to tell me, “You know what? You’re more than what people say you are.” For him to take his time out to teach and show me, and to have guys like Mack and Shaun Alexander and Mo Morris to surround me and make my abilities bloom was gigantic.
When you hurt your leg last year it was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the season to me because of how much of an asset you were to the team. Do you see yourself on the field in the near future?
Oh yeah, definitely I see myself back out there. When I come back, everyone will definitely know. I’ll be better than I was before.
People don’t think past horrific knee injuries. Yeah, you’re out for the year but it also means your whole life is altered, as you can’t walk for months and months and when you do it’s straight to rehab. How did you deal with that?
Well actually it wasn’t just a knee injury on that play, I had a foot injury as well. I severed the nerves in the back of my knee that control the foot. So not only did I blow out my knee, I suffered a ‘dropped foot’, or a ‘dead foot’. It’s been a battle. It’s been a struggle. The first few months were the most difficult times of my life because I was very optimistic but I also had a reality check. There lingered the possibility that I may never play again. But I pushed through it. My faith in God has been the reason where I am where I am. I believe he’ll help me get through this ordeal and become a top player again and become a Hall of Famer in this league.
Last year at training camp I came down and saw that you did the Jerry Rice thing where every time you touched the ball you made sure to sprint down to the end zone no matter what. Not many do that, why do you?
It’s something I picked up from Mike Holmgren, who had us do that. Stump Mitchell too, they had the rookies run all the way to the end zone on every play and I didn’t understand it at the time, but it helped out a great deal. It not only conditioned you, but it conditioned your mind and your body to have the mindset of, “Don’t stop.” Then it helped in games for me to break tackles. It made a difference.
Last year when Kolb came in as the starting QB, did you have any idea that Vick would take over? Was that a Reid secret?
Nah, none of us knew. The Eagles are very loyal to their quarterbacks. Kevin was the guy, and Mike came in and excelled. It was a tough decision the Eagles were put in but Vick created rhythm with DeSean and the boys. It was a tough call but at the end of the day it seemed to have worked.
Did you see a change come over the team when Vick came in and became electric again, supplanting Kolb?
I don’t think it was a problem at all for us as a team, we just had the mindset that we all still need to play hard and we rallied with each other. We rallied around Kevin, we rallied around Vick. We were supportive of both.
Were you confident as a player that the lockout would end?
Yep. Very confident. There’s too much at stake to throw away a season. At the end of the day, we’re entertainers. We love what we do. If you aren’t doing what you love to do, you’ll miss it. I knew it would be back.
How’s the body feeling? Your knee feel good? You back in shape?
I’m walking around. Not really sure about the in shape part, hahaha. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to walk around, it’s been nine or ten months. I’m moving fine, I feel good, look good. I don’t look like I’m out of shape but once I get my legs back under me I’ll be fine.
What have you been doing the past 9-10 months without football? Some people use that time to continue their college education, or learn the guitar.
Well, I’ve been mentally grinding the pain of the knee, working on my foot. Rehabbing five times a week, twice a day. That’s where my mind is. Focusing on getting back.
As a fullback, do you still lead with the head when you’re blocking because of all the concussion concerns?
I’ve been a technique guy, I started with the shoulder because that’s what Mack Strong preached. There are certain situations where you HAVE to make a hole, and you gotta throw yourself in there and see what happens. It depends on the situation, really.
I’ve been talking to a lot of former pros like Jason Short, a former linebacker, who said he’s probably had 20 concussions in his career. How many have you had?
Dude, I’ve probably had around three concussions. My technique is pretty good and that’s one thing you have to stress other guys in the league. If I had any more, hey, I don’t remember them.
How big does insecurity play in an athlete’s brain? The guy in front of me is better than me, the guy behind me is gaining on me?
It plays huge in a young guy’s brain. When you’re a tweener, where you’re in between a contract and getting cut, that’s a big stress in a player’s brain. Thinking about the numbers, with only 50 some guys making the team can be psychologically grueling for a kid.
Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.
Alright man, take care. God bless!
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