Almost every NCAA football team has a player who can change the game once the ball is in his hands.
The Rattler football team appears to have found such a player in Leroy Vann. A cornerback and return specialist, Vann has helped the team jump out to an impressive 6-2 start, with explosive returns on punts and kickoffs.
The Tampa native has become a common fixture in the end zone throughout the first seven games. He scored four touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns.
The kick and punt teams of Alabama State, Delaware State, South Carolina State and Southern University have seen his ability to change a game.
Robert Okeafor, offensive lineman describes Vann as electrifying.
“You never know what to expect, people hold their breath when he gets the ball,” said Okeafor, 20, a junior elementary education student, from Jacksonville.
Vann assumed responsibilities as a punt returner, after running back Phillip Sylvester got injured at the beginning of the season.
Vann said he asked the coaching staff for a chance to make his mark on special teams. He told head football coach Joe Taylor he returned kicks back in high school, and had the experience to cover the duties.
It was not long before he made an impression.
In the first game of the season, Vann returned a kickoff 99-yards. Vann has returned three more kicks and punts for touchdowns since the first game and is ranked second in the MEAC in all-purpose yards with 126.6 yards a game.
Vann said he goes into every return with confidence.
“If they kick me the ball, I feel I’m going to take it to the crib [end zone] every time,” Vann said.
Vann’s ability has been recognized on a national level. He was the Sports Network special teams player of the week in week seven of the season. Vann’s prowess on returns has led to the offense getting great field position.
Quarterback Eddie Battle said that Vann’s capabilities have helped anchor the offense.
“Every time the ball is kicked to him he does a great job of giving us great field position,” said Battle, 20, a sophomore accounting student from Titusville.
Vann is second in the MEAC with 17.8 yards per punt return and third with 25.5 yards per kickoff return.
The offense may give Vann credit for the good field position they receive, but he gives all the credit to his blocking and coaches.
Vann said the scheme that the coaches draw up is a major factor to his success in the return game.
Some of Vann’s teammates have noticed his hard work and the changes within him.
“Leroy Vann really stepped up and took on a leadership role, and he has been a play maker this season.” Okeafor said. “He is real valuable. If I had a vote, he would be the most valuable player on the team.”
Vann said he is his own biggest critic. “I feel I should score every time I get the ball,” Vann said.
Vann has also carved out a role as one of the team’s premier cornerbacks.
He is one of the top tacklers for the Rattlers, with 38 total tackles and a sack for a safety on the season.