‘That’ll stick with him for the rest of his career’: A.C. Leonard suspension might cost Riders star CFL sack title

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

A.C. Leonard’s three game suspension just might deny him of his finest honour.

The Saskatchewan Roughrider defensive lineman is one back of teammate Jonathan Woodard for the CFL’s sack lead, tied with Winnipeg’s Jackson Jeffcoat with nine.

What’s fascinating about the whole thing is that while both Woodard and Jeffcoat have each had 12 games to put together their gaudy sack totals, A.C. Leonard has only had 9.

The reason: Leonard failed to provide a sample for drug testing after the Riders’ Labour Day weekend loss to Winnipeg, resulting in a two-game suspension, which then resulted in A.C. being assessed an additional game for “verbal abuse and unacceptable behaviour towards the doping control officers.”

It was nauseating to watch, even for those of us who never witnessed A.C.’s antics first-hand.

He later apologized for his actions and has since bounced back, but could still pay a price steeper than lost game cheques or public humiliation.

If A.C. Leonard misses out on becoming the 23rd man in the last 40 years to lead the Canadian Football League in sacks for an entire season, that three-game suspension will almost certainly be the reason why.

His head coach, Saskatchewan’s Craig Dickenson, says that would be a tragedy.

“Yeah it would be,” Dickenson said. “He’s a good football player and I’m sure he would like to have those three games back but he can’t get them back and I think he’s learned and I think that’ll stick with him for the rest of his career.”

It’s a cautionary tale the coach will point to in the future when driving home a point to his players about following the rules.

“I think it’s going to serve as a good reminder for everybody but as you know, when sometimes the heat’s on and you make a decision based on emotion and something in the short-term, you don’t think long-term,” he added.

“A.C. has grown a lot since (then). I think this has been his best year in terms of just maturing and becoming a leader in that locker room and I think the younger guys have (seen) what happened and they’ve learned from it as well.”

Coach Dickenson is still optimistic both Woodard and Leonard can finish ahead of Jackson Jeffcoat by the end of the season.

“I hope (Leonard) and Wood are neck and neck and they’re battling it out right down til the end because that means that we’ve had a good year on the defensive front if you’ve got one and two in the sack race,” Dickenson grinned. “Hopefully they both get up there high and one of them gets there or maybe they tie. That would be even better.”

Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris suffered his own suspension and embarrassment by failing a drug test of his own last season, but ended up with the last laugh on stage at the end of the Grey Cup celebrating the game’s MVP and top Canadian awards, in addition to winning the championship itself.

It serves as a reminder there’s still time for AC Leonard to flip the script on what has been a very rough year for him, personally.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.