Taking the path less traveled and finding success at the end of the trail is nothing new for former Towson wide receiver Shane Leatherbury, and he’s going to have to take a similar path to the NFL.
Leatherbury played for the Tigers from 2017-2019, racking up 149 catches for 1,848 yards and 21 touchdowns after initially walking onto Towson and playing at Division II Seton Hill in 2015. Now, after three highly productive seasons in suburban Baltimore, he’s trying to make the jump from the FCS to NFL.
And because of restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leatherbury is attempting to make the jump without the help of a pro day.
“I understand a little struggle. If things don’t go my way, I’m not going to just give up and just fold my cards,” Leatherbury said on Glenn Clark Radio March 25. “I’m going to keep playing and keep going. That’s how I got to where I’m at, so I’m not just going to give up if one thing goes wrong.”
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Leatherbury, who was a first-team All-CAA selection in 2018 and a second-team honoree in 2019, knows the path from Towson to the NFL has been taken before, most recently by Tye Smith and Jordan Dangerfield. Smith and Dangerfield are special teams contributors for the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively.
Smith was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft before latching on with the Titans. Smith, a cornerback, played in nine games last year, making 26 tackles and forcing two fumbles. Dangerfield, who originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2013, bounced on and off the Steelers’ roster from 2014-2017 before settling into his role on special teams. He played in 16 games in 2018 and 2019.
And it’s not just the NFL. Former Towson running back Darius Victor, a first-team All-CAA performer in 2014, played for the XFL’s New York Guardians this year (55 carries, 238 yards). Victor signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, but he’s still looking to crack an NFL roster.
Leatherbury says the success of former Tigers is motivation for him.
“I’ve talked to Tye Smith. I went to a couple of Vito’s XFL games. Me and Tye went to his together. It’s good to see those guys succeed and hear what it takes to get there and stay there,” Leatherbury said. “They’ve had successful careers in the league. Vito’s still trying to get there, but I’m sure he’ll get there soon because he dominated the XFL. But just to hear those guys tell me it is possible, it’s good to have that and see that.”
Leatherbury says he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to reach his goal of playing in the NFL, even if he isn’t drafted or doesn’t hook on with any team as an undrafted free agent. (Dangerfield, as a matter of fact, played in the now-defunct Fall Experimental Football League.)
“Coming out of Towson, it’s a small school and a lot of the small-school guys have to take a different route, but if you love the game you’ve got to stay in it,” Leatherbury said. “You’ve got to just trust the process. What’s meant to be will be. You’ve just got to trust it and take you.”
Leatherbury touched on some other topics as well …
On what it’d be like to put on an NFL jersey:
“It would be such a surreal experience. It’s a dream come true since I started playing football at what, like 7 years old, maybe 5 in the backyard. It’s always been a dream. When you’re young you’re like, ‘I want to go to the NFL.’ Over the course of the years — I’ve had to go to community college, D-II, had to struggle — the dream kind of faded away but it came back at Towson. If I get the chance, I’m going to definitely make the most of it.”
On gaining confidence from Tom Flacco, his quarterback the past two years:
“Even when I first met him, I was like, ‘Man, I just hope one day I can get picked up by a team.’ He’s like, ‘Why would you just want to get picked up? Your goal should be to get drafted, and if you happen to fall that low, you happen to fall that low, but that shouldn’t be the goal.’ After that, I was like, ‘You’re right. Just having him around to help out the confidence and stuff and just to keep throwing with the quarterback you threw with in college, and shoot, he puts the ball on the money every time, so it doesn’t get much better than that.”
On putting together back-to-back winning seasons at Towson in 2018 and 2019:
“We’d like to accomplish more, but the journey of getting there was what I took in the most — coming closer with the guys. Every practice, we’d get better as a team. Shoot, even out of practice, we had little chill nights where we’d just chill with the guys and bringing that brotherhood feeling. Our receivers coach, [Justin Harper], preached brotherhood, brotherhood, brotherhood. If you look to your left and your right, you look and you see a brother. That’s going to make you work harder. Winning was definitely a plus. We wish we won more, but you learn from the losses just as much as you learn from the wins. It was definitely a great process and I’m glad that I could be a part of it.”
For more from Leatherbury, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: ENP Photograhy