'Go-to guy': Blue Hawks senior receiver Tanner Leak making his mark on team's history books
Tanner Leak can tell you exactly when he knew his coaches and teammates began considering him a playmaker.
In the final regular-season game of his sophomore year, Dickinson State was playing Black Hills State at the Fargodome for the Dakota Athletic Conference championship.
"That was the game I started coming out and stepping up," Leak said. "I came out a couple plays in the usual rotation that we have and coach (Hank Biesiot) yelled at me for coming out. That's when it came. I don't know, I guess I just ended up being the go-to guy."
DSU won that game 21-0 and Leak finished with a career-high 156 yards receiving on five catches.
He's been the man ever since.
In four seasons, Leak has 1,647 yards receiving and nine touchdowns on 93 receptions. Entering today's game against No. 13-ranked Montana Tech, he is just seven yards away from passing Brian Mills and becoming the fourth-leading receiver in DSU history.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior from Columbus, Mont., already ranks fourth in receptions and is 10 catches away from overtaking Mills, who played from 1996 to 1999, for the No. 3 spot on that list. He has already passed former DSU assistant coach Duane Monlux, who was an NAIA All-America selection during his playing days, in both categories.
"Monlux coached me and if he could see me now, he could still point out 100 things I'm doing wrong," Leak said with a laugh.
Aside from dropping a handful of passes this season, Leak has been the Blue Hawks' lone offensive juggernaut -- and they definitely notice when he's not there.
Leak pulled his hamstring in the first half of DSU's 21-20 win against Montana State-Northern on Sept. 15 and made the trip to Southern Oregon the next week, though he barely set foot on the field before coaches pulled him.
The Blue Hawks lost 45-7.
Though Carroll College defeated DSU 42-6 last Saturday, Biesiot said having Leak back in the lineup for that game made a noticeable difference in how the team's offense operated.
"We're a different team," Biesiot said. "We felt it was so good to have him back in the huddle after the previous week when he didn't play."
Jimmy Smith, a junior receiver from South Heart, has been Leak's understudy for three seasons.
He said Leak brings a confident presence, a swagger, to the field that few others on offense can -- especially now that senior quarterback Dave Velasquez is sidelined three to four weeks with a severely sprained ankle.
"He brings a key that nobody else can," Smith said. "With his speed and his hardworking effort in every aspect of the game, he brings that (confidence) that a lot of us can't. When we need it, he's there. When he wasn't there against Southern (Oregon), you could definitely tell we didn't have that extra drive that we needed from Tanner."
While he rarely thought of himself as a standout, Leak said he has always tried to be the type of player others look up to and enjoys keeping his teammates' head up.
"If I know they messed up, I try to give them positive reinforcement," Leak said. "I'm the leading senior here, the oldest guy."
Leak is almost completely recovered from the hamstring injury and looks to return to the form he was in early this season when he ranked third in the NAIA in all-purpose yards.
He has dropped to 23rd in the nation in all-purpose yards per game the past two weeks, but is still averaging 131 total yards per game both receiving and on returns.
A couple solid kick returns by Leak today could easily boost that number, as well as give the Blue Hawks a chance to knock off the Orediggers.
"Tanner has always been a playmaker," Velasquez said. "We've always looked at him to make the big plays. On third and long, he's someone we're going to look to."
Dickinson State career receiving records
1. Dave Ouellette, 1988-91, 149
2. Adam Eckert, 2001-04, 133
3. Brian Mills, 1999-96, 102
4. Tanner Leak, 2009-12, 93
5. Eric Boettcher, 1991-93, 86
1. Dave Ouellette, 1988-91, 2,909
2. Adam Eckert, 2001-04, 2,754
3. Eric Boettcher, 1991-93, 1,923
4. Brian Mills, 1999-96, 1,654
5. Tanner Leak, 2009-12, 1,647