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Micah Leon’s seven-year journey to the NFL included three walk-on stops and 16 collegiate passes

FILE - Florida quarterback Micah Leon (12) calls signals against McNeese State during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Gainesville, Florida.  Micah Leon's journey to the NFL was far from normal.  He was a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina State, UConn and Florida.  His entire collegiate career spanned seven years and included two cleanup appearances.  He completed 12 of 16 passes for 78 yards, barely enough to create a career high.  So getting a tryout with the Miami Dolphins during rookie minicamp this weekend was quite an accomplishment.
FILE – Florida quarterback Micah Leon (12) calls signals against McNeese State during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Gainesville, Florida. Micah Leon’s journey to the NFL was far from normal. He was a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina State, UConn and Florida. His entire collegiate career spanned seven years and included two cleanup appearances. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 78 yards, barely enough to create a career high. So getting a tryout with the Miami Dolphins during rookie minicamp this weekend was quite an accomplishment.John Raoux/AP

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Micah Leon watched the final day of the NFL draft at home, with his phone nearby.

He hoped for the best (got called up late) and prepared for the worst (no call up from any team). He was relieved with something in between.

The Miami Dolphins reached out in the final round and gave Leon an invite to a two-day rookie minicamp that starts Friday.

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This was what 24-year-old Leon wanted: a chance to finally show what few outsiders got to see during his seven years — yes, seven — in college as a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina State, UConn and Florida.

Could he really make it to the pros?

“I feel like I can exceed people’s expectations,” Leon told The Associated Press. “I’m excited about that.”

Calling Leon a gamble would be an understatement. His college career included two performances with these stats: completing 12 of 16 passes for 78 yards.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 15: Nika Muhl poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected with the 14th overall pick by the Seattle Storm during the 2024 WNBA Draft at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Adam Udell of Staples during a boys lacrosse game between Darien and Staples at Darien High School, Darien on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

So just getting an NFL tryout was truly an achievement — and a testament to what scouts and front office people see in Leon’s 6-foot-4 frame and clean throwing motion.

“The kid has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen,” said Eric Kresser, a high school football coach in Palm Beach County, Florida, who started working with Leon in 2016. “He’s a prototype.”

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Kresser believes Leon is a hidden gem, a former tight end/defensive end who transitioned to full-time QB as a senior at Boca Raton High in 2016.

“With today’s great quarterbacks, the foundation all starts at a very young age and grows a little bit,” Kresser said. “Sometimes you can get behind the 8-ball, and it’s really hard to get that big shot.

“Micah was just a little late for the recruiting party in high school.”

Kresser still remembers their first meeting. He was coaching future Florida State star Jordan Travis at The Benjamin School when Leon joined them on the court for a workout.

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There it was all. Athletic. Accuracy. Astuteness.

“There wasn’t much difference, except Micah is a lot bigger than Jordan,” Kresser said.

Leon’s path from there was much less direct than the one Travis enjoyed in Tallahassee.

Leon spent his first two college years at NC State and never threatened Ryan Finley’s starting job. He entered the transfer portal in 2019 and ended up at UConn, where he saw an opportunity.

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But Leon tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder on the third day of camp, an injury that turned out to be season-ending, and UConn’s 2020 season was wiped out by the pandemic. He thought he would get a chance in 2021, but surgical complications delayed his return.

Leon finally stepped on the court in the regular season finale against Houston, a college debut that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. He played when UConn’s starting QB was injured and late in a 45-17 loss, a 320-pound defensive lineman landed on Leon’s foot while he was scrambling, dislocating several toes.

“I’m like, ‘Man, you’re kidding me,’” Leon said.

It would be another two years before he would get another chance. After graduating, with one year of football qualification left, Leon started looking for a third university.

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When Florida quarterbacks coach Ryan O’Hara called, looking to add depth to the 2022 roster, Leon was elated. After all, he grew up rooting for the Gators and had family ties to the university about four hours north of his hometown.

So Leon passed along some training clips and “they liked it enough to take a picture of me,” he said.

One problem: When Leon began UF’s admissions process, he quickly learned he had missed the application deadline, so he had to sit out the 2022 season and wait until January to enroll. That also meant he needed an NCAA waiver for a seventh year, which he received, allowing him to register days before classes started.

“It just felt nice to end up where I really wanted to be,” he said.

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Yet Leon came no closer to being on the field regularly. Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz was the top QB, with Jack Miller and Max Brown also ahead of Leon on the depth chart.

But seven months later, Leon attracted attention. Florida coach Billy Napier raised eyebrows around camp when he said, “We’re giving him reps for a reason.”

Gator legend Steve Spurrier watched a few practices and was drawn to the big boy with the big arm. So the Hall of Fame coach and player added to the intrigue by proclaiming, “Don’t be surprised if Leon plays a pair here soon.”

“Every time he’s out there, the ball goes up and down the field in a good way,” Spurrier said.

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Leon did play, but only in garbage time against McNeese State. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 16 yards. Following Mertz’s season-ending shoulder injury in late November, Brown made his first career start against rival Florida State.

With the Florida season over and his college career over, Leon went home and began working at Kresser three days a week and spending more time with famed trainer Chris Verna, a biomechanics specialist who Leon considers “a miracle worker ‘.

They helped Leon adjust his movements, hone his footwork and prepare for Florida’s pro day, where he pitched for 31 NFL teams. The Dolphins invited Leon to their local pro day and called again as the draft ended.

“You can’t hold guys like this down forever,” Kresser said. “He has all the tools. If you have all the tools, people won’t just let you go.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl