Shane Leatherbury went from no scholarship offers to becoming one of the nation's top wide receivers.
Football was always a passion for Shane Leatherbury. In fact, the now-Towson University senior wide receiver has taken a unique route to get on the field at Unitas Stadium.
He actually played quarterback at Delmar High School in Delmar, Delaware. But he knew if he wanted to continue his football career, he would have to switch positions.
Coming out of high school, Leatherbury was only invited to one senior combine, and was given only one scholarship offer — to Division II Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. It was also just a partial scholarship, so he had to lean on his academic scholarships as well.
But Seton Hill wasn’t a fit for him, so he found himself back in his hometown of Salisbury, Md, after just one year at Seton Hill. He actually left football for that year, and was attending Wor-Wic Community College.
He kind of treated it sort of like a gap year — but football wouldn’t leave his mind.
“I would just work out,” Leatherbury says. “I would wake up at like 7 a.m. pretty much every day, work out and go to class. Then after class, I would go work out again with one of my boys, and then go to work until midnight.”
Work wouldn’t give him relief from missing football. He worked as a photographer for WDMT, Salisbury’s local ABC affiliate. Through his job, he would go around to different high school games and record them.
And while it gave him a different perspective on the game he loved, going to different games each week got him excited to get back on the field himself. That happened particularly when people from his hometown saw him and asked him questions like “Oh, Shane, you gave up on school?” and “You're back here now?”
“I was getting antsy” Leatherbury laughs. “It makes you want to get back, because you don’t want to be home. And you don’t want to be the one that gave up.”
Luckily for him, one of his former high school coaches was still in touch with him. Dustin Johnson, who coached at Delmar High School and is now the head coach at William Peterson University, thought his former player was good enough to play Division I.
So, Johnson reached out to TU’s former offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose and told him about the work Leatherbury was putting in. The Tigers’ coaching staff told him he could come in as a walk-on.
Leatherbury took the coaching staff up on the opportunity because “nobody else was taking the bait.” But as soon as he got on campus, and working with the team, it was like riding a bike again. At home he was just running routes and working out with friends.
“But once I got here you got a whole family around you picking you up,” Leatherbury says. “We first started workouts, and I did pretty well, because when I was home, I was working out as much as I could. So, it's just like once you get here, it's just sticking to that.”
One of Leatherbury’s main challenges was getting accustomed to the speed of the game. He was also injured in the first few weeks of the season, and had to sit out four games. But by the end of the season, he was starting to get in a groove.
He was also regaining his confidence that he lost while sitting out of football for a year.
“Just even the year off is like —honestly, it was just about confidence, because it's hard,” Leatherbury says. “At receiver, it's all about confidence catching the ball. So, it's really about regaining that confidence, and that was the hardest thing coming in.”
One conversation changed the course of his playing career.
“Our old offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose, after a practice, he came up to me and he knew I was doubting myself,” Leatherbury says. “But he told me “’You can play. You can play here, and you can play with these guys, and you can be good.’
“And after that, just getting that from a coach who's seen guys do it, it was uplifting. And it was like, all right, yeah, you can do this. It gave me the confidence.”
That confidence finally came through in 2018, his junior year. He finished the season with 67 receptions, the third-highest mark in TU single season history. He also finished in the top-50 in FCS nationally in numerous categories including receptions per game (28th), receiving yards (30th), receiving yards per game (38th) and receiving touchdowns (46th).
More importantly for Leatherbury, the Tigers offense was ranked in the Top 20 in total offense, and played in the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“It was amazing just being a part of something that big,” Leatherbury says. “Our offense was crazy. And playing with guys like Shane Simpson, Tom Flacco, it's pretty crazy, and it's just a blessing.
“You can't take it for granted, playing on the offense like that and playing on a team like this still. It just makes you love the game even more, and you just see the beauty in it.”
More incredible was that Leatherbury went from someone who wasn’t even in the game three years ago, to becoming one of the top receivers in the conference, as he was named to the 2018 All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Conference First Team.
And the first person he thanked when the award was announced — his quarterback, roommate and best friend Tom Flacco.
“That was crazy, because I was like-- going from a guy that had no scholarship to getting that, it was just like — I've got to thank Tom, because he was the one throwing to me,” Leatherbury says. “He's my boy and one of my best friends. He knows I got his back, and I know he's got my back through whatever. That’s always good to have as your quarterback.”
Along with shining on the football field, Leatherbury is also doing well in the classroom. He is scheduled to graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice — a field he knows well because both his father and grandfather were police officers.
After graduating, he’s hoping to get a job on the federal level. But he’s still not ready to give up on football. And If he gets a shot to play professionally, he’s going to take it.
“I'm glad that I'm going to graduate, but it's still bittersweet, because I fell in love with this place and the people,” Leatherbury says. “And it's like, ‘what am I going to do when I leave, leaving all these guys?’”
“It's honestly just been a blessing, again. I keep using that word, but it's just — I don't want to take it for granted, for sure. And I definitely am glad that I chose to come to Towson University. And I hope everybody's glad I came.”
The Tigers are currently 3-3 and ranked No. 20 in the country, while Leatherbury has 27 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers are back in action on October 19, when they host Bucknell at Unitas Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for four p.m.
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TIGER Way.