This past NFL season, a former Monmouth Hawk finally won a Super Bowl. New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan, who spent the 2010 season as a Hawk, both as a receiver and defensive back, become the first player who used to play for the school to reach the top of the NFL mountain.
He surely will not be the last either. Monmouth University’s football program is growing, and it is growing fast. Having spent the last four years on campus as a student, I got to witness the school make the jump to the Big South Conference in 2014, marking a big step up in competition for the University. As I depart as an alum, the school is in the middle of building a stadium around the field for the coming football season.
As a result, the amount of Hawks entering the NFL has been going up almost each and every year. Miles Austin became the first big name from the school. He signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2006, with 2009 being his first season.
The next name to become a household name was the man mentioned above, Chris Hogan. Since Hogan, the Hawks have put players into the league for the last three years. First came Neal Sterling, who is a wide receiver/tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. The next year, tight end Hakeem Valles signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals.
I attended school with both of these men. Now, I never met Sterling while he was at school, but did get the chance to interview him when he came back to campus for a day back in 2015. I also did not know Valles personally, but I would see him here and there around campus.
But this year’s Monmouth player to enter the NFL is someone I am a little more familiar with. His name is Darnell Leslie, and he is an outside linebacker who has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys.
Leslie graduated with me this past May with a Software Engineering major. Given I was a Computer Science major, I had a good handful of classes with the linebacker over the course of the last four years. As a result, I can say Darnell is simply a good guy. He genuinely seemed to care about learning and was not your stereotypical college athlete who would skip out on classes all the time.
From seeing him in class and on the field, it seemed to me the work ethic is certainly there. As an undrafted free agent who needs to earn a roster spot, that is the first key to success. But that will only get someone so far. The talent also needs to be there.
Leslie has the flexibility to fill several roles on a defense. He is more than capable of rushing the passer when needed. From the games I saw, he is a pretty solid tackler, who is good at wrapping people up to bring them down. He is not the biggest guy, but he is still within the parameters one would look for when trying to find a backer.
He seems to be getting pushed towards the role of SAM linebacker in his early days of rookie camp and OTAs. He has some quickness and tends to be good off the snap, so stuffing the run should be something he specializes in at the NFL level. He knows how to work the line and certainly is in a spot to make a name for himself.
So remember the name, Darnell Leslie. Monmouth University continues to pump out NFL level talent and Leslie is in line to be the next Chris Hogan.