Inwardly, Cody Leonard may have been irritated and agitated to learn he had been demoted.
Outwardly, he never flinched.
What doesn't get noticed on Saturday afternoons when the Quincy University middle linebacker puts together All-American caliber efforts chasing ballcarriers is the fact he displays All-American character on a daily basis. Last week, that character was put to the test.
In the wake of a 41-26 loss to St. Francis highlighted by defensive mistakes, the QU coaching staff took several starters who graded out poorly on game film and demoted them immediately. They had every opportunity throughout the week to earn their spot back, or at the very least earn playing time, but that was only possible if they accepted their fate with maturity and understanding.
Leonard showed everyone how to do that.
"When your best players see the faults and the weaknesses they need to improve, it's always a breath of fresh air." QU coach Gary Bass said. "The young guys see when you're put in some very difficult situations how to handle it."
Some might have thought the QU coaching staff was crazy to consider benching an All-Great Lakes Valley Conference performer who had double-digit tackles in each game this season. But the staff needed the Hawks to be accountable for their decisions and actions.
If sitting a preseason All-American got the message across, then that's what they had to do.
"It was definitely frustrating, but it helped me open my eyes to see what I need to do better and the things I need to work on to go out there and do my job," said Leonard, who made 11 tackles against St. Francis but had 14 missed assignments brought on mostly by overpursuit. "We took a lot of it to heart."
The response was everything the QU staff hoped it would be.
The Hawks put together a solid defensive effort Saturday, allowing 351 yards of total offense while turning Davenport away twice on first-and-goal situations inside the 2-yard line.
"They did exactly what they were asked to do," Bass said. "The thing we talked about all week was to do your job and do it the best you can. If you take care of your business, take care of your house, everything will work itself out."
Leonard was as sound as anyone.
He finished with a career-high 19 tackles, eight solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack. How he grades out this week won't be determined until the coaching staff watches the game file, but the number of missed assignments was negligible.
"We made plays based on our responsibilities," Leonard said. "We played as a team a lot more. We didn't have guys going out there and trying to do their own thing. We handled our responsibilities."
That's all they have to do.
"It was about honing in on what we're supposed to do," Leonard said.
In his case, that's leading by example. Leonard didn't challenge the coaching staff's decision to put him or others on notice. He accepted that fate and took it upon himself to change it. His teammates did the same thing.
Together, they played like a defense capable of competing in the GLVC.
"There's always little things we can fix," Leonard said. "But if we play like that the rest of the year, we'll be all right."
The way Leonard handled the past week with poise and pride, there's no doubt things will work out just fine.