MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- You can find numbers and try and quantify the type of season Anthony Leonard is having for West Virginia and exactly what he's meant for a defense that enters tonight's game ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense and scoring defense.
Leonard is second on the team in tackles - he had the lead the past three games, but was surpassed by safety Terence Garvin, who made seven against UNLV and is now two ahead of Leonard with 32.
Leonard is second on the team in tackles for a loss - one half of a tackle behind Bruce Irvin, who has four tackles for losses, all sacks.
Add a sack and a forced fumble by Leonard, and a bunch of those plays made right around the line of scrimmage symbolic of the way he's taken to playing middle linebacker and you begin to grasp what he's meant to No. 25 WVU (4-1).
The best way to entirely embrace his value is to understand this: Anthony Leonard is WVU's best player at two different positions. It doesn't matter where he plays. It only matters how he plays and Leonard's straight-ahead, rugged style suits him well wherever he goes.
"That's my mindset, regardless where I am," he said. "Outside linebacker, middle, on the line rushing, that's my mindset regardless."
He was to be the starting strongside linebacker when the season began. He has instead started all five games and played all the meaningful snaps in the middle in place of Pat Lazear, who was sidelined by an errant Robert Sands preseason leg whip on Aug. 19.
"He's played really well," WVU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel said. "Anthony has always been a really good, instinctive football player.
"I think that one of the things helping him now is he's able to anticipate and play a little bit faster instead of having to react. I think he's done a good job in the offseason studying and getting himself ready."
So much so that when Lazear is ready to resume a full-time role, which could be as early as tonight's 7:45 p.m. ESPN game against South Florida (3-2), the coaching staff has a decision to make.
Reinstall Lazear in the middle and move Leonard back to the strong side? Sure, but then WVU loses what Leonard has done in the middle, as well as what Najee Goode has done in a largely unnoticed, though equally successful replacement job on the strong side.
Keep Lazear in a reserve role? OK, but that's the team's leading tackler from a season ago.
Whatever way WVU goes, it's sure to incorporate Leonard. His play has given the Mountaineers no other choice. It's truly a credit to the way Leonard has lingered at WVU and steadily improved through the years.
A 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior from McKeesport, Pa., Leonard has played in 35 games now at WVU, but with just 12 starts - meaning he'd started seven of his first 30 games.