Ron Leary: Protector
Sept. 26, 2011
BY: DEREK WILCOX
"Big Ron" Leary was made for football. At 6'4 and 325 pounds, the senior offensive lineman is about as tough as one could imagine, which is why he doesn't fit the stereotype of one being raised as the only boy of seven children.
With five older sisters and one younger sister, some people might expect Leary to be somewhat of a softie. He even admits that he allowed his sisters to put him in a dress and makeup when he was young.
"But my dad put a stop to that real soon," he quickly pointed out. Leary said he is serious about life, but added that even though he doesn't smile a lot, he likes to have fun.
Today's game will be Leary's 28th consecutive start for the Tigers, and his parents, Ronald and Iris, and sisters will be in the stands, as usual.
"My sisters are my biggest fans," Leary said, adding that his family frequently makes the six-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Memphis for the home games.
His younger sister is probably his biggest fan - and his biggest critic. "If we lose, she comes up to me crying, and tells me how she's so mad that we lost," said Leary. "That kind of hurts me, but it makes me feel good that she cares so much."
Without brothers to roughhouse with, how did Leary learn to be an aggressive athlete?
"If you're going to protect people, you have to have that rough side," explained Leary. "If I wasn't going to be tough, who was?"
Leary said he has a natural instinct to be protective of his sisters. "Every time I talk to them, I ask them about their boyfriends, if they do anything wrong," he admitted. "The way I grew up, when my father's gone from the house, I have to protect the household."
Maybe that has led to Leary's success at protecting the quarterback. "I've never thought of it that way," said Leary. "I guess there is a big similarity, because it's a lot about protection - protecting somebody you care about."
Leary said having sisters has had its benefits for him, too. They give him dating advice and insight into the mind of a woman.
His sisters aren't his only support. He explained that his parents have taught him to work hard and be respectful to others. He especially looks up to his dad. "He's been there for us from day one," Leary said. "He has shown me how to act, and how a man should treat his family and raise his kids, and that's something that I respect him for. The man I want to be is him."
While it would have seemed natural for Leary to gravitate to football considering his size, it took him some convincing - even by complete strangers.
Leary originally followed his father's footsteps in his love of basketball. He recalled a time as a young teenager when strangers who saw him playing basketball in the driveway stopped to knock on his door to tell his parents that a kid his size should be playing football. But he kept on playing basketball, in the continuing protests of friends and complete strangers alike.
He finally gave in, and joined the football team before his junior year of high school.
"It had to grow on me because I didn't realize how much training went into football outside of the actual game," recalled Leary. "That was different, but once I started playing and learning more, I started enjoying it because I was actually good at it. I've just grown to love it ever since then."
Leary lettered in both of his seasons at Southern Lab High School, and did not allow a single sack as a team captain in his senior season. He earned all-state honors as he led his team to the Louisiana state semifinals.
In his freshman season at Memphis, Leary helped contribute to ranking 22nd nationally in rushing offense and 26th in total offense, while adjusting to four different quarterbacks due to injuries. At the end of the season, he was named to the 2008 All-Conference USA Freshman Team.
In 2009, Leary was part of the offensive line that gave way to just 17 sacks, which ranked third in Conference USA and 39th nationally. He also played with three different starting quarterbacks throughout the season. Throughout 2008 and 2009, Leary helped block for Curtis Steele, who had two back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons.
Last year, he protected two different quarterbacks, one of which who was a true freshman who passed for over 2,000 yards. He also aided Gregory Ray in rushing for more than 100 yards in two games.
Leary was awarded Memphis Offensive Lineman of the Year for the 2010 season at the team banquet. He also received the Spring Iron Tiger Award and the Leadership Award at this year's Blue-Gray game. Even with his past success, Leary said this year is still a huge challenge for him personally.
"The last three years I had been playing with guys who have been playing for a while," he said. This year, he's the only one on the offensive line who has started a majority of his career games.
In addition, Leary will be leading an offensive line that is adjusting to a third offensive line coach in three years.
"It's been a challenge to get to know how [the other offensive linemen] react to certain stuff. We get along pretty good," he said.
Coach Larry Porter praised his offensive line often throughout fall training camp, saying that he "liked their growth."
Leary said he tries to lead the offensive line by example, and hopes he can provide some of the consistency that the offense desperately needs.
"We preach `practice like it's a game' here a lot," he said, adding that offensive line coordinator Blake Miller doesn't let them forget that mantra.
He said he considers his teammates part of his family too, and that he's learned a lot about leadership from his experience.
"It's an honor to take the field with them every week, and the fans have yet to see all that we can do," he said.
So what does Leary have planned after graduation?
"Of course I want to take football to the next level, but I also want to get into sports writing," he admitted. "I am determined to be successful."
Leary is on track to graduate with a degree in journalism this December.
Whatever he does, he will no doubt be able to make the necessary adjustments to be successful, and his sisters will be there to cheer him on all the way.