By Kim Goss
Published: Winter 2002
One of the most respected honors given to Air Force Academy football players is the Mr. Intensity award. The award, which was started by the first Falcon head strength coach, Jack Braley, in 1983, is presented to the player who works hard in the weight room, achieves success and inspires others to do the same. The winner's name is engraved on a plaque of former Mr. Intensity winners, such as Chad Hennings of the Dallas Cowboys, Steve Russ of the Denver Broncos and Chris Gizzi of the Green Bay Packers. This year's winner is senior halfback Leotis Palmer.
At just 5'8" and 175 pounds, Palmer must be considered, pound-for-pound, one of the strongest football players in Division I football. He cleans 359, benches 380 and squats 500. He also vertical jumps 42", runs the 40 in 4.43, but doesn't know how many chin-ups he could do because all he needs to max out on the Academy's physical fitness test is 21. Such power could help him reach national levels in Olympic weightlifting, and his clean must be considered, pound-for-pound, one of the best ever made by a football player. Oh yes, he's also an impressive football player.
Last year the senior from Darien, Georgia, showed his versatility by playing several positions. He rushed for 516 yards on 106 carries, for a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. He also caught nine passes for 75 yards, third best on the team, and led the team in punt returns with an average of 9.0 yards per return and average kickoff returns of 19.5. A former high school quarterback, Palmer showed his passing skills last year by completing two of five passes for 52 yards.
During the Falcon's 6-0 start this year, Palmer continued his Falcon legacy by rushing for 301 yards on 44 carries (for a 6.8 yards-per-carry average) and completing two of three passes for 70 yards, one that resulted in a touchdown.
“By measurement standards Leotis is short, but he plays big. His leadership ability certainly impresses me and he always puts the team first,” says head coach Fisher DeBerry. “Palmer plays just as hard in practice as he does in a game. His toughness is tremendous; he's able to take a lick and bounce right back and he's able to give out a lot of licks.” His position coach, Dean Campbell, adds, “Leotis Palmer may be the smartest player I have ever coached. His knowledge about the game of football rivals the coaches'.”
At the heart of Palmer's character is his appreciation of his parents as role models. “They always do the best they can and they let me know that I can do anything if I trust in God and just believe that I can do it.”
Mr. Intensity couldn't have a stronger foundation.