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Catching Up With ... former Colts fullback Roosevelt Leaks

"He'd hit anything that moved," Lydell Mitchell said of former Baltimore Colts fullback Roosevelt Leaks.

He wasn't the happiest of Colts, but who's surprised? In college, Roosevelt Leaks rushed for more yards in one game (342) than he did in four of his five years in Baltimore.

At Texas, Leaks ran amok, led the Longhorns to a Cotton Bowl victory in 1973 and finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting as a junior. With the Colts, the oak-thighed fullback served mostly as a blocker for tailbacks Lydell Mitchell and Joe Washington, when not protecting quarterback Bert Jones.

Leaks never groused about his supporting role in Baltimore. Even now, at 61, the consensus All-American who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in college said he bears no ill will.

"Somebody had to block, and it ended up being me," he said from his home in Austin, Texas. "That was something I had no control over. I had a job to do, and I tried to do it extremely well. That's how you win games, isn't it? When everybody does his job?"

Win, the Colts did, reaching the NFL playoffs in Leaks' first three years (1975 through 1977). Coach Ted Marchibroda called him "the best blocking fullback in the NFL." Players agreed.

"Leaks said, 'Follow me,' and that's what I did," said Mitchell, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of those three seasons. "I couldn't do it by myself. He'd hit anything that moved."

A fifth-round draft pick, Leaks arrived with baggage.

A knee injury nagged him as a college senior and scared away professional scouts. The Colts took a shot on the 5-foot-10, 225-pound running back, and Leaks obliged, scoring a touchdown in his first game.

In November 1975, he dislocated three toes while fending off Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier of the Kansas City Chiefs and missed the last four games.

The following year was Leaks' best: 445 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, including two in a 38-14 Monday Night Football win over the Houston Oilers. His parents watched that game back in Brenham, Texas.

"It was quite an event for my father, a farmer, to see his small-town son on TV," Leaks said.

Leaks' signature play came in the Colts' win over the New England Patriots in the last regular-season game of 1977. Division rivals, both teams were 9-4 and vying for one playoff berth.

Nursing a 30-24 lead, the Colts faced third-and-5 at midfield with less than 1 1/2 minutes remaining. Leaks broke free on a quick opener and raced 39 yards. The Colts then ran out the clock.

Just as likely, fans recollect Leaks' biggest fault. Given the ball, he was prone to fumble — 14 times in all — while rushing for 1,268 yards and 14 touchdowns.

"I'd always had that problem," he said. "My hands aren't that big. At Texas, in the game where I rushed for 342 yards [against Southern Methodist], I fumbled three times. Someone said, 'You'd have been out of that game if not for those runs.' "

Waived by the Colts in 1980, he signed with Buffalo and helped the Bills to two playoff berths in four years. His best game statistically — 90 rushing yards — came in a 20-0 victory over the Colts in 1982.

Leaks quit football in 1983 and dabbled in real estate before becoming Director of Veterans Land Board Appraisals at the Texas General Land Office. He retired last year.

Married 32 years, he has two children, three grandchildren and the 70-acre farm where he grew up.

"I've got aches and pains, but I get around," he said. "I keep my weight around 215 to take the pressure off my bones."

Leaks has not returned to Baltimore since leaving the game and seldom hooks up with old teammates.

"There is life after football," he said. "Don't know if I've been successful, but I still have a roof over my head."

Did he make the most of his football career?

"Probably not, but with the hand I was dealt, I'd say yes," he said. "I'd like to have done more, but I can't hold anything against anybody. I can't hold a grudge — I go forward."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikeKlingaman

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