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Friday, May 20, 2022

Football

Leone takes center stage


Arguably one of the best punters in the country after being named a Ray Guy award finalist three years straight, former UH punter Richie Leone got an opportunity to compete in front of several coaches, general managers and scouts at the NFL scouting combine this weekend. |  Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Arguably one of the best punters in the country after being named a Ray Guy award finalist three years straight, former UH punter Richie Leone got an opportunity to compete in front of several coaches, general managers and scouts at the NFL scouting combine this weekend. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Richie Leone was poked and prodded during his three days in Indianapolis.

The former UH punter was thoroughly examined about everything from his mental knowledge of the game, his physical health and ability to successfully compete NFL level to his personality away from football — and that was all before he took the field at the NFL scouting combine this weekend.

Leone was the only UH athlete who competed at the combine, which attracted more than 900 members of the media, and helps decide the draft position of 335 NFL hopefuls.

Leone said the mental workout was just as taxing as the physical drills.

“You hurry up and wait,” Leone said. “They try to mentally tire you. I felt sluggish when I got on the field. It’s definitely a mental test.”

When he arrived on Wednesday, he went to the hospital where he took several medical tests before giving six vials of blood made him woozy.

“I almost passed out,” Leone said.

On Thursday, Leone’s day began with a 4 a.m. drug test before a personal medical evaluation by each of the NFL’s 32 team doctors, which took three hours to complete. It was followed by a roundtable meeting with representatives from different teams speaking with different players at the same time.

Friday was much more intimate for Leone.

He met with coaches personally and discussed the mechanics of punting, his strengths and weaknesses and what he does on Saturdays without football, which usually involves a round of golf, Leone said.

Finally, he got on the field and punted Saturday on the first day of the combine.

“(He’s a) big, strong-legged, powerful punter capable of booming the ball with good hang, distance and accuracy. Has the tools to earn a starting job and serve as an emergency kickoff specialist,” wrote NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki.

But with a head coach who worked with special teams both professionally and in college, Leone had an idea of what to expect. The two have a personal connection after head coach Tony Levine recruited Leone to UH.

Leone’s decision to play for the Cougars worked out for both parties.

Leone closed out his career second in UH history with an average of 43.1 yards per punt. Leone had 219 punts for 9,430 yards in his four years with 79 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and just 18 touchbacks.

This season, after being named as a Ray Guy Award semifinalist for the third straight year, Leone was named a second team All-American after pacing the American Athletic Conference by placing 46.6 percent of his punts inside his opponents’ 20-yard line and 22.2 percent inside the 10.

“I flew into Atlanta six weeks in a row and sat in his house six different evenings,” Levine said in November. “He was 17 years old, now he’s 21, 22 years old. To see the development off the field, the change, the maturity process … now they’re getting to either have a professional career and move out into the real world, and that’s why you get into coaching.”

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