ANNAPOLIS, Md.—For quarterback Riley Leonard, the Daniel Jones comparisons have been coming all season long. Now, they'll only get louder, as the sophomore was named the Military Bowl MVP, just like Jones back in the 2018 Independence Bowl.
"It's a surreal feeling," Leonard said after the game. He added, "It's a huge honor for us to represent those who have fought and died for our country."
Leonard was the undisputed leader as the Blue Devils marched to a 30-13 win Wednesday against UCF in the Military Bowl. He completed 19-of-28 passes en route to 173 yards through the air, in addition to leading Duke's ground attack with 63 yards. He also punched in the Blue Devils' single-season record-breaking 30th rushing touchdown in the second quarter, one of his two total.
The honor comes after Leonard put up one of the greatest quarterback seasons in Duke history in his first season starting. With 13 rushing touchdowns, including two in the Military Bowl, he passed the 1974 squad's Mike Dunn for second-most by a Duke quarterback in a single season. He also ran for 699 yards, the fourth-most ever by a Duke quarterback.
"We consistently ran the ball and were able to find their holes in the defense," Leonard said of his performance on the ground Wednesday, and the statement easily applies to how he's run the ball all season.
Meanwhile, his 2,967 yards through the air gave him the seventh-most prolific passing season in Duke history, and his 63.77% completion percentage is in the program's sixth-highest single-season mark. Leonard is also just the second Blue Devil signal caller with 600 or more yards rushing and 2,000 or more passing yards in a single season.
Peruse the record book, and you'll find even more places Leonard has etched his name, but his performance in the Military Bowl was the pièce de résistance. After being an All-ACC honorable mention, the Fairhope, Ala., native added another award to his collection in just his first season leading the Blue Devils' offense.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.