Despite facing adversity, inside linebacker Akileis Leroy continues to play top-level defense

Even though Leroy opted out of last season, he has still played more games than almost anyone else on the defense.


Eston Parker III

Akileis Leroy made a name for himself as one of the best defensive players in the FAU football team.

Bryce Totz, Staff Writer

10 years ago, senior inside linebacker Akileis Leroy suffered a devastating knee injury. 

Leroy was playing football in middle school as a running back in his hometown of Albany, Ga. when he suffered an ACL injury. Sometimes, it takes up to nine months to recover from an ACL injury, but once he recovered, he learned about the defense.

“I became a defensive-minded guy and I started watching how dominant defenses were growing up,” Leroy said. “It’s just something that clicked to me.”

Leroy believes that playing linebacker is one of the most challenging positions on the defense to play.

 “I wouldn’t advise [playing linebacker] because it takes a lot, a lot of communication, and a lot of thinking,” he said.

Leroy’s high school coach has seen many running backs transition to the linebacker position over the years, as he explained that it is a natural switch.

“A lot of great linebackers started out as running backs,” Lee County High School head coach Dean Fabrizio said. “They have the vision to see the holes.” 

Leroy was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and received offers from five schools: FAU, Central Michigan University, Louisiana State University, Middle Tennessee State University, and Troy University. Of those schools, FAU was the only one he visited.

Fabrizio said that Leroy was a humble person while in high school, and he played well on the field. 

“There are not too many players who have the physicality and tackle like [Leroy] does,” Fabrizio said. “He’s got tremendous strength and tremendous explosiveness.”

Leroy has been one of the most proficient players and leaders in the Owls’ locker room since joining the team.

Once Leroy arrived at the university for his first season in 2017, he played all 14 games and recorded six tackles. He also had a kick return for 17 yards against Louisiana Tech.

He played the entire 2018 season, where he had 20 solo tackles and helped on 19 others in 12 games. Of the 39 tackles he had that season, 2.5 of them were for a loss and he also helped with one sack. Leroy had another kick return that season too, this time for 15 yards.

“I love stopping the run,” Leroy said. “Over the years, I try to get into the passing game too because nowadays, it’s not a one-way football game; it’s three, four, or five ways.”

The 2019 C-USA championship season was a breakout year for Leroy, as he had the second-most tackles on the team behind Rashad Smith. Smith went on to be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League (NFL).

Leroy had 55 solo tackles and 46 assisted tackles for a total of 101 in 13 games throughout 2019. He led the team with 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss of yards. Leroy also had a career-high three interceptions and five forced fumbles. 

He missed the Boca Raton Bowl that season due to a suspension for academic reasons and did not return until 2021.

Leroy returned to a new coaching staff, led by Willie Taggart.

“At first, it was kind of a struggle with the new scheme and being able to return in fall and not in spring,” Leroy said. “I just try to give my best effort when I can to the [team].”

Leroy wants his teammates to know that he will put in the effort every day to be the best he can be, but he has to learn.

“Coach [Mike] Stoops does a good job of explaining, as well as Coach Thompson, my position coach,” he said. “When I don’t understand something, they break it down well.”

It has been a good year for Leroy, as he has 42 total tackles (20 solo, 22 assisted) and a forced fumble. He has recorded at least five tackles in five of his eight games (the games against Fordham University, the University of Charlotte, and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) are the exceptions).

Consistency is key for Mike Stoops, and he believes that is one aspect of football that Leroy has improved upon. 

“[Leroy] is more comfortable understanding the system like a lot of our players,” the defensive coordinator said. “They have been through a lot of different changes over the years.”

Leroy said that the coaches know how to calm him down if he seems to get too frustrated in practice since they know he is still learning the plays. He is starting to gain confidence, as he feels that he is beginning to play at a similar quality to his 2019 season, but the work is never finished. 

“I always see that there is room for improvement and I will probably never be satisfied with my game,” Leroy said.

Bryce Totz is a staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected], or tweet him @brycetotz.