Shane Leatherbury was another in a line of fine triple-option quarterbacks at Delmar, but he knew if he wanted to succeed at the collegiate level, he was going to have to make a change.
After a winding path that has taken him to Division II, a community college, and even the world of sports journalism, Leatherbury has caught on with the Towson Tigers in a huge way.
Leatherbury was named to the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason First Team, after recording the third-highest reception total (67) in Towson history on his way to earning All-CAA First Team honors in 2018.
“It was so much fun for me. The team success and enjoying it with guys you’re brothers with, makes each moment more special when it’s people you care about. The bond that we’ve built is incredible as a team.”
His path to suburban Baltimore started after the 2014 season at Delmar, where after leading the Wildcats to the 2013 postseason, they were just 5-5.
There aren’t many top-level teams running the triple-option that Delmar Head Coach David Hearn has installed for the Henlopen South school, and when Leatherbury couldn’t grow past his 5’10” frame, he realized being a quarterback wasn’t going to be his path.
“When I stopped growing, I gave up the dream of being quarterback. My mom kept telling me I’d be 6 foot, but it wasn’t true. Once I knew I wanted to go to college and play at a pretty high level, I knew I’d have to move to receiver.”
The Division I offers weren’t coming, so he chose to go to Division II Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
Playing in the competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, he caught 37 passes and 2 touchdowns in his freshman season, but he would be one-and-done.
Citing “some things I had to come home to,” Leatherbury returned to his native Salisbury, Maryland, where he enrolled at Wor-Wic Community College, a school with no football team.
In its absence, Leatherbury started working out at One More Rep with Trevell Jones and then-WMDT Sports Director Spenser Tilus.
“I had class at 9 every day, so I’d wake up and work out before 6 at One More Rep. Trevell and I would do field work in the afternoon after we got out of class, and then chill for a bit. Then at midnight we’d go back to the gym and work out or work on catches.”
Tilus even hired Leatherbury as a sports reporter, and for a season he travelled Delmarva covering high school sports, including his alma mater at Delmar.
While he said he enjoyed being a sportscaster, he wasn’t ready to give up the football dream, and one of his high school coaches, former Delmar QB Dustin Johnson, had a relationship with then-Towson Offensive Coordinator Jared Ambrose (recently hired by Delaware), that put him on the Tigers radar.
“They exchanged emails and said they’d give me a shot as a walk-on, and that was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Leatherbury fought injuries his first season at Towson in 2017, but still managed to catch 30 passes for 296 yards, including making 8 grabs at Elon.
That began to attract the attention of Towson Head Coach Rob Ambrose, Jared’s brother, who quickly fell in love with Leatherbury’s attitude.
“He’s a talented, smart, hard-working kid, who went to a lower level because where he went to high school not a lot of people went down there. He had a chip on his shoulder and decided that this level was for him. He didn’t want it; he was going to take it. He’s one of the hardest-working, best human beings I’ve ever gotten the opportunity to coach. Watching guys like him, come into the program, work hard, grow, and take this on as family for the rest of his life, that’s why I’m smiling, I get to go to work every day.”
The investment grew to a half-scholarship, and Leatherbury took the rest after finishing in the top-50 in FCS in receiving yards (885), and touchdowns (7). He had three 100-yard games, including catching 9 balls for 129 yards against Stony Brook.
Leatherbury said his growth has only built his confidence, and that he wasn’t focused on the scholarship money.
“Every day, it’s not earning the scholarship, it was that I hadn’t played in so long and I was trying to become a receiver, I was just trying to convince myself every day that I was a good football player and that I could play with these guys. It was about having fun with the game and making the most of it.”
One of those guys is his quarterback, Tom Flacco, the brother of the former Delaware and Baltimore Ravens QB, and said it’s been a thrill working with a quarterback who has an NFL pedigree.
“There’s nothing like it. He makes every play you want him to make, and if he didn’t make a play he wanted to make he gets mad, but he doesn’t get too mad. He’s super composed and a great teammate. He won’t put you down if you mess up, he’ll focus on the next play. He gives you the confidence you need, he’s a professional in keeping you in the game and confidence.”
Shane’s pedigree is affecting his academic choices at Towson. Despite his stint at WMDT, he said it’s the influence of his grandfather and father, Ernie Leatherbury Sr. & Jr., who have him going down the criminal justice path. The stories they would tell about their jobs intrigued Shane.
Shane’s potential continues to intrigue Towson, and the CAA’s coaches, but Shane said his honor speaks more to the Towson offense.
“It’s nice that they respect my game and how I play. It also says a lot about my team and how we gained respect throughout the year, and everybody is taking us serious now. It means a lot, but a preseason award doesn’t mean anything unless you turn it into a postseason award.”
One community that figures to be watching is at Delmar, where Leatherbury hopes to continue to follow in the footsteps of other Delmar stars like Dustin Johnson, who has gone on to become a head coach at Division III William Paterson University.
“Coming from Delmar there’s a chip on our shoulder. A lot of the colleges and scouts overlook it because they don’t think it’s worth their time going there. I’ve always said everything I do is for motivational purposes only. Me doing this isn’t just for me, it’s for everyone else who has been doubted and looked over, and the young guys who don’t think they can do it because they’re from Delmar. Look at what Alex Ellis did getting a scholarship at Tennessee and making the NFL. I always looked to him and he gave me hope, and now I’m trying to give people under me hope.”
Hope has taken Shane Leatherbury from Division II to a starting role in FCS, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that hope can only grow into more success in 2019.