Jeff Leiding was one of those guys that I saw around town from time to time and I heard a lot of stories about his craziness off the field. I never saw any of that personally and he was always friendly to me.
I hadn’t heard much about Jeff Leiding lately and was just getting to the 1983 college football season in my blog which was Leiding’s last season in college.
I was just thinking about Leiding and the Texas Longhorn defense of 1983 when considering a game to write about. The Texas defense in 1983 was one of the better ones in the history of the game. Early in the season, they beat Auburn 20-7 in a game that was not as close as the score. They didn’t allow Auburn to cross the 50 yard line until the 4th quarter and Auburn legend Bo Jackson was held to 35 yards rushing.
Later, against arch rival Oklahoma, the Texas defense crushed Sooner super star Marcus Dupree and he would never play another down of college football. The defense was just phenomenal and Jeff Leiding was it’s Middle Linebacker and a consensus first team All-American.
He was also the inspirational leader of that defense.
Jeff Leiding passed away over the weekend of an apparent heart attack. He was 52 years old.
Leiding was born and raised in Kansas City, but later moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he attended Union High school for one season. He was a Parade All-American and considered the top LB recruit in the entire country and one of the very best recruits overall.
In spite of his father playing basketball at Missouri, Jeff Leiding picked the University of Texas to play his college football.
He was a member of the 1980 recruiting class and for those that always say that recruiting doesn’t matter, Leiding certainly lived up to the hype and maybe even then some.
I will never forget his first college football play.
It was my birthday, September 1st 1980. There was a small gathering at my house and of course I wanted to watch football. Several schools had done really well with the 1980 recruiting class including Texas, Texas A&M and Ohio State. I was anxious to see some of these new guys get on the field. Young football fans don’t even know how great they have it these days because we had to wait till the season got started to see these guys in action.
Texas just happened to open up with Arkansas in 1980 which was extremely rare. Normally, they open up with a weak sister game.
Leiding, as a true freshman, naturally was immediately on the special teams. He came flying down the field at full speed and dove right over a Razorback trying to block and knocked the return man out cold.
Unfortunately, Leiding also injured his shoulder and had to miss a lot of his freshman season.
Leiding suffered through several injuries while at Texas. But, by his senior season of 1983 he was completely healthy and he dominated.
That defense was loaded and 9 of them were taken in the 1984 NFL draft. The 2 that weren’t taken were juniors and would be taken the following year.
Texas was ranked #2 all season long and were leading Georgia 9-3 in the Cotton Bowl when a Texas player who shall remain unnamed dropped a punt in the closing minutes and allowed Georgia to score a late TD and win 10-9.
Later that evening, Miami would shock Nebraska and the rest of the world and beat the Huskers 31-30 in the Orange Bowl to win the National title.
After ending his career at Texas as a 1st team All-American, Jeff Leiding was a 5th round draft pick by the St Louis Cardinals. He was with the Cardinals for a couple of seasons and then spent 2 years with the Indianapolis Colts. Leiding was big at 6-3, 235 but the injuries had probably caught up with him and he didn’t play long in the NFL.
Thanks for the memories, Jeff Leiding. You will be missed.
I want to dedicate this post to another Jeff. We just heard my friend Jeff Coston also died of a heart attack this morning on July 15th, 2014.