Florida Atlantic's Cre'von LeBlanc in action against the Buffalo Bulls at FAU Stadium on Sept. 19, 2015 in Boca Raton, Fla. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Florida Atlantic's Cre'von LeBlanc in action against the Buffalo Bulls at FAU Stadium on Sept. 19, 2015 in Boca Raton, Fla. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

NFL DRAFT COUNTDOWN | Cre’von LeBlanc determined to fulfill NFL promise, for himself and his late father

Cre’von LeBlanc is not one to focus on negatives.

“When you are dedicated and determined to do something for yourself and everyone else, you find a way,” he said.

And so it is that LeBlanc, a cornerback out of Florida Atlantic, has tackled life and the journey that he hopes will land him in the NFL.

LeBlanc is traveling one of the tougher roads to a pro football career. Though he got an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, he did not receive invitations to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine.

But no matter.

“I’m training hard every day, two sessions a day,” he said. “The goal is to prove the doubters wrong.”

And those around him have no doubt that he will.

“I talked to him last week,” said Florida Atlantic’s secondary/assistant player personnel coach Corey Bell. “He’s very confident in his skill set and he understands the things he has to do. Initially, he was very disappointed about not being invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. But that just gave him more motivation about what he has to do.”

And what motivates LeBlanc, unlike many other NFL prospects, is his desire to fulfill a promise.

“I lost my dad in high school and I made a promise to him that I would get to the NFL,” LeBlanc said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Whether he makes it or not is, in many ways, not the point. Because surely, if Craig LeBlanc Sr. were alive today to see the man his son has become, he would be more proud of his growth as a person than as an athlete.

“It instantly put him into manhood,” Lawanda LeBlanc said of the effect her husband’s death had on her son. “It just made him feel like he had to work harder at everything he did. He’s a kid who’s hungry. He said, ‘My dad is no longer here, my brother is incarcerated and my mother is alone in the world. I have to go out and fill that role.’”

When LeBlanc was 15, he and his parents were driving from their home in West Palm Beach to Orlando to celebrate Lawanda’s birthday. A day that was filled with promise turned into a nightmare when, according to a Palm Beach Post story:

He (Cre’von) noticed his dad sweating and complaining that it was hot.

“It wasn’t normal sweat,” LeBlanc remembered.

Craig Sr. took some pain pills for his heart, but moments later, he slumped over. Cre’von and his mother thought Craig Sr. was joking around.

He wasn’t.

They pulled the car over and, as his mother ran out on the road trying to get help, Cre’von called 9-1-1. Craig Sr. was taken to an area hospital.

Cre’von and his mother were in the waiting room when they were told the news.

“They just said he didn’t make it,” LeBlanc said. Craig LeBlanc was 44.

That day changed his life.

“I think he kind of had to grow up early and face something like that,” said FAU defensive backs coach Ben Strickland. “Him being there when it happened will be something that will always stay with him. He’s a young man with a tremendous amount of faith and that’s an event that truly helped him on his walk, and showed him what it was truly like to be a man of faith.

“He has to use that as something to continue to make him a better person and realize the opportunity he has. I think for him, that moment shook him, but has stayed with him in a positive way.”

If there is a silver lining, it is that LeBlanc turned any anger he had over his father’s death onto the football field, said Lawanda. He re-committed himself to the game during his junior season of high school and hasn’t looked back.

At Florida Atlantic, LeBlanc earned a spot as a starting corner as a junior and by his senior season his teammates selected defensive captain and defensive MVP. He was also a second-team All-Conference USA. LeBlanc is an experienced punt and kick returner, which could translate into special-teams work in the NFL.

Though pro scouts haven’t had many controlled environments in which to see LeBlanc perform, his coaches and agent believe that LeBlanc’s game film speaks volumes. And the 5-11, 195-pound LeBlanc will have his chance to shine during FAU’s Pro Day on March 31.

“Whatever questions or concerns there are, they are going to be answered during Pro Day,” said Bell. “He’s not fully polished — no player is — there are some things he can get better at. But he has all the tools and you’ll see that when you turn on the film.”

Said Strickland: “Right away one of the things that struck me about him was how fast he plays on the field, his quickness, his agility, his ability to control his body and I think his ball skills are unique for that position. A lot of players, you have to coach into plays, but he’s not like that, he’s already there. … He doesn’t see success or failure, he sees how he can get better from both.”

LeBlanc’s agent, Harold Lewis of National Sports Agency, says he’s been getting “a sincere amount of interest coming from multiple teams” and that he expects LeBlanc to be invited to several spots around the NFL for private workouts.

Pro Day at Florida Atlantic will provide LeBlanc with the opportunity to prove his speed — his coaches think he’ll run in the high 4.4-second to low 4.5-second range, which likely would have put him in the upper half of the pack at the combine. He hopes to follow former teammate D’Joun Smith, a defensive back drafted by the Indianpolis Colts last year, into the NFL.

But maybe more important will be the time that teams get to spend talking with LeBlanc, who is surprisingly soft-spoken.

“He’s an unbelievable kid. When you say that kid is sweet, well, you’re getting the real deal. He’s just an incredible, amazing person,” his mother said. “He’s a very disciplined person and very coachable. He loves working with kids. He’s been in that position before where he’s had heroes and people he looks up to and now he’s in that position. He’s always going to be there if he says he is. He will just give you everything.”

And while mothers are prone to bragging, all those around LeBlanc echo her sentiments.

“When you meet Cre’von, you can’t help but like him,” Lewis said. “You watch him on film and he’s a cover corner and he’s good at that. He’ll knock you out. And then when you meet the kid, he’s the nicest, softest human being you’ll ever meet. He’s like Clark Kent with the glasses on. When he puts the helmet on, he just becomes another person.”

And that person, who hopes to see himself on the cover of the Madden NFL video game someday, will have a career in the NFL if all goes as planned.

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

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