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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame QB Riley Leonard In-Depth on Alabama Trip, Lessons from Philip Rivers

June 28, 2024

Notre Dame quarterback Riley Leonard often made headlines during the offseason, whether it was his transfer from Duke or battling the nagging injuries that cost him most of spring practice after he arrived in South Bend. 

It’s also worth noting that the ankle operations weren’t overly serious, as Leonard’s 2024 season was never in jeopardy. They simply came at the wrong time on the football calendar. 

Leonard is long past wearing his TayCo brace and has moved into full preparations for the season opener in College Station. 

In fact, Leonard is in Thibodaux (La.) this week to compete and be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy. 

“I feel so good,” stated Leonard. “I’ve never felt better with my confidence and body going through so much. I think mentally, it was such a blessing to go through all that because I have a different perspective now. I don’t take anything for granted after being through all those injuries. 

“In hindsight, I’m very grateful for everything that’s happened to me. It was definitely tough when I was going through it.” 

Following the spring, the Alabama native found himself in a unique position as he had impressed the locker room with his leadership but hadn’t really built a strong chemistry with his receivers. 

Leonard knew he couldn’t wait until the team reported back in June to make up ground and took matters into his own hands. 

The 6-foot-4, 216-pounder invited receivers Beaux Collins, Deion Colzie, Jaden Greathouse, Jayden Harrison, Kris Mitchell and Jayden Thomas, along with quarterbacks CJ Carr and Deuce Knight to his hometown to train for a week. 

“That was something really special,” explained Leonard. “I wasn’t able to participate in the winter and spring due to injuries. My biggest concern this summer was getting to know the guys on the field. I think I did a really good job of building relationships with those guys off the field. I was like, ‘Shoot, we need to train together. We had three weeks off, so I brought them down to Alabama with me and we were able to train with Philip Rivers.”

Finding chemistry and building rapport was the trip's No. 1 priority, but the memories off the field truly brought the receivers and quarterbacks closer together.  

“It was awesome,” Collins stated. “It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had in my life. We just went down there and had fun. We talked a lot of ball with Philip Rivers. He gave us pointers on watching film, being better teammates with each other and things like that. It was just a great trip. 

“We were in the pool, went to the lake, fishing and all that stuff. It was a dope trip.” 

The time with Rivers was also significant as the former NFL quarterback was able to share his knowledge and each player was able to take something back to Notre Dame. 

“It was a perfect trip and we learned a lot from Philip,” Leonard explained. “We got some good work in and you could really see the difference going back to Notre Dame after that trip with how well we’ve bounded and the memories.” 

Leonard might have learned the most from Rivers, who now lives in Fairhope (Ala.), the same town the Irish quarterback grew up in. The conversations centered around running the offense and communicating effectively in multiple situations. 

“The biggest thing with Phillip was instilling confidence in your guys and how to be able to communicate on the field,” stated Leonard. “Having eight guys down there and I’m kind of leading the show having never really thrown to them before - I’m having to control these guys and talk through things and ask questions when they need to be asked, but demand things when needed. I think I learned a lot from him in that regard.” 

Rivers also impressed Leonard with his memory and the ability to recall specific plays from his career to show as examples, which is what truly can separate good players from the great ones. 

“We watched film and he broke down everything for me,” said Leonard. “We were watching a clip on the speed cut, the six to seven-yard out rote. He was like, ‘Oh, this guy ran a good one in 2016 against the Bears in the third quarter.’ He pulls it up in 15 seconds. Just picking his brain on stuff like that was really cool.” 

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