WESTFIELD, Ind. — The name Darius Leonard has become synonymous with defensive playmaking in the NFL.
But the Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker no longer wants to be referred to by that name.
When Leonard reported to training camp Tuesday, he asked reporters to call him Shaquille, which is his middle name and the name most people in his life use to refer to him.
“I went by Shaquille my whole life,” Leonard said. “My mom called me Shaquille, my family called me Shaquille, my friends and family called me Shaquille. I only went by Darius in school or if I was in trouble. Once I got to the NFL, that’s when people started calling me Darius. I hate it, but coming in as a rookie, I figured they didn’t want a rookie coming in saying to call him a different name. So, I just went with it.”
Even after winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, Leonard didn’t speak up about his wishes. Now, as he begins his fifth season, he finally is making his position known.
“Coming into my rookie year, talking to [Hall of Fame wide receiver] Randy Moss, he said the best advice he could give me was to keep your mouth closed and your ears and eyes open,” Leonard said. “So, I came in and worked. I didn’t want to come in and be treated special. If they called me Darius Leonard, I mean, that is my name. That’s just what I went [by]. I didn’t want to cause any problems.
“But I love being called Shaquille and hate being called Darius. I understand it’s going to be hard, but I would love if y’all would try to call me Shaquille or ‘D’ or ‘Maniac’ and not Darius.”
Leonard begins camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing back surgery in June. He elaborated for the first time on his condition, explaining that two disks in his back were impinging on two nerves and, consequently, causing lower-leg pain. The team had been searching in vain for the source of that pain before ultimately discovering the nerve issue, Leonard said.
Leonard underwent ankle surgery during the 2021 offseason to address “calcification” in the joint, he said. When pain persisted throughout the season, Leonard was left to play hurt.
Now, though, he’s already feeling relief and is optimistic about the eventual outcome.
“Now we’ve found the source of the whole problem,” Leonard said, “and we’ll be ready to rock and roll.”