That might have had the 2018 NFL AP defensive rookie of the year asking around Monday, “Does anyone know where a certain symbol of my lifetime commitment is?” Fortunately for Leonard, he heard an “I do.”
The happy news came, at least publicly, from a sports journalist related to the young Colts fan who caught Leonard’s gloves. Tyler Brooke shared a photo on Twitter of his step-nephew wearing Leonard’s No. 53 jersey while proudly holding the memorabilia, and he asked for help in reuniting the ring with its rightful owner.
Brooke got a reply from Leonard himself, who added several crying-with-laughter emoji in tweeting, “I need that.”
A spokesman for the Colts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Leonard, 25, was married to his high school sweetheart, Kayla, just a couple of weeks after the Colts made him a second-round draft pick out of South Carolina State in 2018. The two actually go back to their childhoods together in a small town in South Carolina, and of their first meeting, Leonard told the Colts’ website last year, “I was probably 5 or 6.” The team posted evidence, showing Darius and the then-taller Kayla standing side-by-side in a kindergarten class photo.
The romantic element took some time, though, with Leonard telling the Colts that Kayla “turned me down” in the sixth grade before warming to him in the 11th.
Leonard was attracted by her “beautiful eyes” and also the fact that Kayla was “a baller” who excelled in softball, basketball and volleyball. In fact, Kayla wound up playing softball at Claflin University, the campus of which abuts South Carolina State, allowing them to easily carry their relationship into their college years.
By his senior year, the two-time MEAC defensive player of the year was well on his way to becoming just the sixth Bulldogs player drafted in the second round or higher. He wanted Kayla with him on his journey, so he proposed to her in the middle of South Carolina State’s field while he was being honored on Senior Day. Once he was officially a member of the Colts, they wasted no time tying the knot, doing so in a ceremony so informal that they were both in the clothes they wore at their jobs that day — she as a schoolteacher and he, of course, as a linebacker.
“I got officially married in some South Carolina State shorts, a Colts T-shirt and some Jordan retros,” Leonard said with a laugh last year. “I didn’t think we would go up there and do a ceremony. But the pictures are funny. We had a great time.”
A daughter, Mia, arrived last year. She ended up serving as the flower girl for another marriage ceremony — this one much more traditional and well-attended — between her parents.
“I always wanted a big wedding and he knew I wanted a big wedding. So, he made it happen,” Kayla said last year.
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June 29, 2019. 1 year ago today, my husband gave me the wedding of my dreams! We finally got to celebrate our love with our friends & family. Our actual day we got married is May 9, 2018 but on this day, we like to celebrate as well so I guess this is happy anniversary #2 big daddy. I love you! ❤️
By that time, Leonard had made a major splash as a rookie, and he went on to earn Pro Bowl honors after the 2019 season. In July, ESPN ranked him as the fourth-best off-ball linebacker in the NFL, after polling several dozen league executives, scouts, coaches and players.
Little wonder that he has inspired youngsters to wear his jersey and clamor for any team apparel he might be willing to share.