Local product Leach leads Ravens’ way to Super Bowl

For South Robeson (NC) High and East Carolina product Vonta Leach, Sunday will be the pinnacle of the Baltimore Ravens fullback’s career. After nine NFL seasons, the Lumberton, NC native is finally going to the Super Bowl.

Speaking by phone earlier this week, Leach said the Super Bowl experience so far has been a whirlwind of media stops and player meetings. It’s also been a time of reflection for a season that saw the Ravens finish 10-6 before winning three straight playoff games – over Indianapolis, Denver and New England – to get to New Orleans.

“Beating the Denver Broncos up there in Denver has been one of the more memorable moments this season,” Leach said of the double-overtime win over Peyton Manning’s Broncos. “They were picked to win and everyone already had them winning the game, so it was big for the team.”

Leach is the ultimate team player, sacrificing carries and catches to serve as a lead blocker for backfield-mate Ray Rice and primary blitz-protecter for quarterback Joe Flacco. The 6-foot, 260-pounder basically serves as an offensive lineman in the backfield.

In the 2012 regular season, Leach carried the ball nine times for 32 yards and had 21 receptions for 143 yards. In the postseason, he has carried the ball four times for 14 yards and one touchdown and added three receptions for 21 yards.

For his efforts, Leach was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl at fullback. Of course, he was a bit too busy heading to the Big Easy to play in last Sunday’s game in Hawaii, but he will take a trip to the Super Bowl anytime, he said.

“It was great being named to the (Pro Bowl) team, and anytime that you are selected is a real honor,” Leach said. “I obviously had to pass it up because of the Super Bowl.”

Leach’s career totals include 24 carries for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He has contributed 112 receptions for 749 yards and four touchdowns during his nine-year career.

Leach has led the way for two different Pro Bowl running backs (Arian Foster of the Houston Texans) and Rice (Ravens). While in Houston, Leach helped block for Foster in reaching 327 carries for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns. Foster also had 66 receptions for 604 yards and two scores in 2010.

Since coming to Baltimore, Leach has been fullback in front of Rice, who in the last two years has rushed 548 times for 2,507 yards and 21 touchdowns. Rice has added 137 receptions for 1,182 yards and four touchdowns.

Leach was also named the No. 45 player on the “Top 100 Players in the NFL” on NFL.com. But the honors and accolades mean little to Leach compared to getting the chance to realize the dream of every player in the league.

“I really don’t look for those individual honors, but anytime that you are honored by your peers and by your teammates, it makes you feel real good,” said Leach.

This has been one of the toughest challenges, schedule-wise for the Ravens this season, as they faced playoff teams – Cincinnati (twice), New England, Houston, Washington and Denver during the regular season. That has helped the team improve every week.

“Any game in the NFL has a challenge and we played some tough teams this year,” Leach said. “We practiced hard and just went after it.”

One of the biggest swings of momentum for the team came at the end of the regular season, however, when 17-year veteran Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season.

“Once you hear that, you want to send him out on a good note, so you go out there and try even harder playing with one of the best linebackers of all time,” Leach said.

Now, there is only one more mark for Leach and the Ravens, and that is a championship on Super Sunday.

“It would be a dream come true to hold up that trophy,” Leach added.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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