Colts LB Darius Leonard scared for football career, family during lengthy concussion

Ryan Young

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard rejoined his team last week, marking his long-awaited return to practice after being stuck in concussion protocol for three weeks.

While the concussion — which he sustained in the Colts’ Week 2 win against the Tennessee Titans — wasn’t his first, this one hit him differently.

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The “severe” symptoms, particularly the headaches, lasted for weeks.

“The first week, I wasn’t thinking about wife and kids, that stuff,” Leonard said, via the Indianapolis Star. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ve had a concussion before. I’ll get over it.’ Second week, I was like, ‘Ahh, you know, it’s alright.’

“The third week, that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Wait a minute. I got a wife and kid. I’ve had a headache for three weeks now. Will I ever be the same? Do I keep playing?’ I mean, you have those thoughts in the back of your head.”

Leonard’s delayed symptoms

Leonard remembers feeling different after sustaining the injury, but thought it was due to the weather. It was 93 degrees at kickoff, after all.

“I thought it was just the heat,” Leonard said, via the Star. “It was hot that day.”

The 24-year-old didn’t realize he was truly hurting until he was in the locker room after the game. That’s when, after meeting with training and medical staff, that Leonard was officially diagnosed with a brain injury and placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol.

“The concussion thing is always a concern. That’s something you don’t want to mess with,” Colts coach Frank Reich said, via the Star. “I guess the ones that happen and then you get later are typically the more mild ones because it’s not anything that you notice right away. Then all of the sudden you develop symptoms later and then you go back and think about it — you were in the heat of the moment in the game. I just think that’s what happens. Unfortunately, we have had a couple of those.”

After spending three weeks recovering from a scary concussion, Darius Leonard is thrilled to be back healthy with the Colts for Week 7.
After spending three weeks recovering from a scary concussion, Darius Leonard is thrilled to be back healthy with the Colts for Week 7. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Being forced to wait at home

From that point, Leonard had to wait. There’s no cure for a concussion, like there is for nearly every other football-related injury — something that was frustrating for Leonard to learn. When the symptoms wouldn’t go away in the first few days, the Colts’ medical staff actually banished him from the team’s facility other than to come in for treatment and testing.

“I had to come in and do the protocol [tests], but then I would go right back home,” Leonard said, via The Athletic. “I would stay for only 30 minutes.”

Finally, Leonard was allowed to return and participate in team meetings after two weeks and was fully cleared after three. Now, Leonard should be back on the field for their matchup against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Yet it was when he was stuck at home, with nothing to do but sit and hope, that Leonard started to fear for his career.

“It’s very frustrating because you want to be out there, but I was tired and having headaches day in and day out. I was irritable, didn’t have any energy,” Leonard said, via The Athletic. “And you know me, I’m always full of energy. It was just something where I couldn’t be me.”

It was, he said, the most frustrating time of his football life.

“It was definitely tough being away from the team, not being able to go out there and help your brothers out,” Leonard said, via the Star. “It definitely was rough, especially when I couldn’t even be on the sidelines. It was definitely a tough time for me.”

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