Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin: Canadian DB Deane Leonard ‘looks every bit like an NFL player’

Ole Miss defensive back A.J. Finley (21) intercepts a pass to Florida receiver Justin Shorter (89) as Ole Miss defensive back Deane Leonard (24) also defends at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday, September 26, 2020. Photo courtesy: Bruce Newman

University of Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin likes what he’s seen from Canadian defensive back Deane Leonard.

The former University of Calgary cover man used USports cancelling its 2020 football season, due to COVID-19, to his advantage. He received multiple NCAA Division I scholarship offers and chose to play for Ole Miss.

“Leonard really has looked even better than we would’ve thought,” Kiffin said in a pre-season video conference. “Looks every bit like an NFL player, very long, can run and great length.”

“Having Kiffin talk about me in high praise was a reminder that I’m doing what I need to be doing, day in and day out,” Leonard said in a video conference. “Just motivation to keep on pushing forward.”

The son of former Calgary Stampeders DB Kenton Leonard was a lockdown corner on the Dinos 2019 Vanier Cup championship team. The two-time All-Canadian stands six-foot-two and weighs 193 pounds, Leonard is a smooth-moving DB who has top end speed. He is a Calgary native and played at Notre Dame High School in Cowtown.

“That first week, that first half it was a learning experience. What that game told me is I was in position and I can compete. I’m ready to go. It’s a big learning curve and I feel I’m on the uprising of it. I just need to get a feel,” Leonard said.

His first matchup in the ultra competitive Southeastern Conference came against the University of Florida, the Gators were ranked third in the nation at the time. The Rebels lost 51-35 while allowing quarterback Kyle Trask to complete 30-of-42 passes for 416 yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Kyle Pitts had eight receptions for 170 yards and four touchdowns.

“That’s something I didn’t really have experience with how athletic the guys are — both in speed and size. Playing against Florida, going against Pitts at six-foot-six, 246 pounds, I’ver never seen anything like that in my three years at university,” Leonard said.

Leonard took the same route as former University of Guelph defensive lineman Tavius Robinson. Both went from playing Canadian university football, transferring to Ole Miss and suiting up in the SEC immediately. The pair of defenders are roommates on the Oxford, Mississippi campus.

“It’s nice to have another guy in a similar situation. Coming to Mississippi there is a big cultural difference and having another Canadian guy to be there is pretty big,” Leonard said.

“Moving to Mississippi in general is just a cultural difference, everyone is just a little bit different than you and it takes some time to adjust to.”

Leonard and Robinson have the University of Alabama next up on the schedule, Saturday, October 10 at 5 p.m. ET. The Crimson Tide are ranked second in the NCAA behind a dynamic passing attack. Bama quarterback Mac Jones has Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Brampton native John Metchie III, who exploded onto the scene last week, as dangerous targets.

“They’re like a track team back there, fast, agile, they can really do it all,” Leonard said. “Two guys from Canada doing it on the big stage.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.