Original Article By: Jeff Mills via News & Record
GREENSBORO — OK, who wants a 6-foot-3 wide receiver who can run, has good hands, a 33½-inch vertical leap and good grades?
Apparently no one.
Except, of course, N.C. A&T.
And now, Zach Leslie.
The Aggies have made a habit of finding overlooked, and under-offered, talent. Tarik Cohen. Brandon Parker. Jeremy Taylor. Elijah Bell.
“A&T was my only (scholarship) offer,” Leslie says. “When I got that offer, it was a dream come true. I had always dreamed of playing on TV and playing in a championship game. I had never won a championship before, and there’s nothing like that feeling. Nothing.”
Leslie, a sophomore from Lawndale, has blossomed this season and ranks second in the MEAC with seven touchdown catches, including a one-handed grab in the end zone that sent an audible gasp through East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
He ranks third in the league with 33 catches and fourth with 438 receiving yards.
Leslie has been the breakout star of a balanced, deep A&T receiving corps featuring two-time All-MEAC performer Bell and speedsters Malik Wilson and Ron Hunt.
“E-Bell and I talk a lot,” Leslie says, “and he has told me some stuff that has helped him become successful. I’m just trying to play my role, help the team in any way possible. … We all compete within our position group, pushing each other to be better. That’s what keeps all of us going week to week.”
“I learned so much from watching those guys,” Leslie says. “It ain’t always about having the physical reps. Last year, I took a lot of mental reps. I was always asking questions. And now the knowledge I gained is showing on the field.
“All the older guys on this team told me, ‘The spring is when you earn your position.’ My mindset going into spring ball was to do my absolute best, to show the coaches 100 percent. That’s what got me where I am today.”
Leslie won a starting job with a strong spring, and he emerged as A&T’s top receiver while Bell healed from foot and ankle injuries that have hampered him much of the season.
During the last four weeks, Leslie has posted the first two 100-yard receiving games of his career and has averaged six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ll tell you what: I’ll take that young man one-on-one with anybody,” A&T coach Sam Washington says, “and not just in this conference, but in the country. He’ll win more of those one-on-ones than he’ll lose.”
So how did such a big, strong, athletic player receive just one offer?
For one thing, Leslie played mostly defense in high school, starring as a big-hitting safety for Burns High, which ran a run-first wing-T offense. And then he hurt his shoulder his senior year.
“I hurt it the first time playing basketball,” Leslie says. “I thought it had healed, thought I was well. But then it really tore in a football game. I was making a tackle, and when I hit the guy my shoulder dislocated and it tore the labrum.”
The tear required surgery to repair, and any college offers dried up.
“They sewed my labrum back up,” Leslie says, “and then it was a six-month healing process. Those were six long months. But you know what? I’m glad I had to go through that to get where I am.”
With no college offers, Leslie went to Palmetto Prep School in South Carolina.
“That year was hard,” Leslie says. “I had friends, people I knew well, who were all going to college. But that wasn’t my path. I had to do what I had to do to earn a scholarship. I went to Palmetto Prep, and that’s where I got my offer from A&T. Ever since then, I’ve been an Aggie.”