“I was just doing what was expected of me,” Leonard said. “When I caught those touchdowns, I was just trying to help my team win.”
Leonard said it was a great honor to be named MVP out of all the outstanding players on that All-Star team. It was such an incredible experience for Leonard, that the only down side about that game was that his Mississippi team didn’t win.
“His first touchdown catch was one of his typical ‘up and go get it’ catches,” Lynn Leonard said. “He stretched the ball over the goal line and there it was ‘Touchdown!’”
Mom said his second touchdown catch was one that should have been on ESPN’s Top Plays.
“The catch was a little to his right,” Lynn Leonard said. “He was running and all of a sudden he went down. The ball was still coming. He stretched out and raised his arms and hands up and there it was. He made the catch! I screamed, ‘That boy caught that ball!!!’ It was one that made the crowd go wild. The Alabama side was in awe!”
But Leonard didn’t always like football. Lynn said he started playing pee-wee football with the Starkville Raiders when he was 8 or 9. She said he didn’t like to play because, “they don’t throw the ball.”
“He has always liked to catch,” Lynn Leonard said. “I guess he is a born receiver.”
Raphael Leonard is a senior at Starkville High School, where he also plays basketball and baseball. He is the son of Raphael and Lynn Leonard. He has committed to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. to play football. Leonard is undecided about a major at this time, but wants to possibly do some coaching or something in the sports field.
“I know that I am talented because of God first, and my hard work,” Leonard said. “If I work harder, I can become better. In all my sports that I play, God is there. He has kept me from injury. That is God at work right there!”
“Mama has always stressed to us the importance of going to church and believing in God,” Leonard said. “I sometimes get discouraged about things but when I talk to God or pray, I feel better. I know God has my back and I will do all I can to make him proud of giving me the talents he has given me. God is my strength.”
Leonard said attending Sunday School when he was younger helped him realize that God is able to help him with everything he wants to accomplish in life.
Leonard is a member of Rock Hill United Methodist Church.
“Because of my foundation there, my faith is always growing,” Leonard said. “My pastor is very encouraging. He is a great motivator. The members there are also encouraging and proud of me. I am so glad to be a part of such a great church family. I want to continue to grow and play so they can watch me in college and hopefully in the NFL.”
Rev. Jerome Wilson said he has had the pleasure of serving as Leonard’s pastor for about eight years at Rock Hill UMC.
“He is a quiet person, who has a quiet spirit, and he is very well-mannered,” Wilson said. “His parents and the church always encourage him to keep God first in his life and every thing else will be added.”
“I was immediately struck by his leadership qualities, politeness and humility,” Jackson said. “When I also learned that he was a regular participant in his church and was an honor roll student, I was so proud that he was a United Methodist. In addition, I have attended most of his high school football games, and he is in deed an M. V. P.”
Mom said she couldn’t be more proud of her son.
“If he never makes another catch, Heaven forbid, I would be elated with his accomplishments so far,” Lynn Leonard said. “I know that God has a plan for him. Not only is he a great athlete, he is a better person. He is so humble, dedicated, dependable, and responsible. I don’t say these things about him because he is my son. I say these things because they are true. His dad, granddad, sisters, and the entire family — we are so proud of him.”
Lynn Leonard said Raphael is a young man who has done things that would not have been possible if God was not in his life.
“We have taught our children to honor and reverence God at all times and in all they do,” Lynn Leonard said. “Leonard is living proof that God will take care of us when we do what he tells us. His favorite scripture is ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ He firmly believes that his talent is God’s gift to him and what he does with that talent is his gift to God.”
See this story in the February 6, 2015 edition of The Starkville District Newsletter at 2-6-15 newsletter