Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Working for a living: Leonard Hankerson takes over UMass football’s wideouts

Leonard Hankerson strives for excellence as UMass football's wide receivers coach

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Keith Allison/Flickr

Keith Allison/Flickr

Keith Allison/Flickr

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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Leonard Hankerson takes pride in his work.

Whether it’s on the football field or in the film room, Hankerson likes to put significant time and effort into just about everything he does.

The former Miami star’s five-year career in the NFL — mainly with the Washington Redskins — is proof that his dedication to the details paid off in his playing career.

Now in the midst of his first year as the wide receivers coach for the Massachusetts football team, Hankerson is relishing his opportunity to work with the pass-catchers at UMass.

“As a coach I work hard and I like to take advantage of every opportunity that I get or may not get, so I just keep hard working and that’s the main thing,” Hankerson said. “We have a great group of guys that love to work, put in the work before practice, after practice — and me, I just love coaching the guys.”

Minutemen coach Mark Whipple, who was the offensive coordinator at Miami from 2009-2010 during Hankerson’s junior and senior year, mentioned Hankerson’s vigorous work ethic right off the bat when describing what his former player brings to the UMass coaching staff.

“Well he’s always been a hard worker when I coached him at Miami,” Whipple said. “He was really smart. I think he brings a ton of things to the room, experience, presence and most importantly he’s a good teacher and a great person.”

Hankerson’s inner drive to be successful has made his transition over to the coaching side seamless partially because of his lead-by-example attitude that has seemingly been hardwired into his brain.

“I’ve always been a hard worker whether it was throughout high school, college, NFL days and now as a coach,” Hankerson said. “I lead and that’s the thing, I teach my guys hard work, that’s what it’s about, your effort. Every single day I’m in here, I’m studying the defense, I’m going over what I can do to get my guys better.”

The Fort Lauderdale native just always believed he’d have that ability to shine behind the sidelines.

“When I was a player I was the type of player that knew everything on the field,” Hankerson said. “[I] knew about the coverages, knew what route other guys was running, my teammates. I could tell everybody on the field what to do. At the end of the day I had players asking me for help or what not. It just transitioned right over and I knew exactly what I wanted to do after I was done [playing] football.”

During his playing days, his knowledge on the football field translated to the stat sheet, most notably during his senior year at Miami. Hankerson caught 72 passes for 13 touchdowns —  both single-season records for the Hurricanes that still stands to this day — and 1,156 yards.

Following Hankerson’s graduation, he was drafted in the third round, No. 79 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Redskins and compiled 81 receptions for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns over a 31-game span from 2011-2014. In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons signed Hankerson and he appeared in eight games, catching 26 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns, before injury troubles led the Falcons to waive him that December. He then bounced around between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills but only appeared once for each team.

Once his career on the gridiron was effectively over, a familiar face in Whipple offered him the chance to begin his coaching career. In 2017 he was hired as an offensive graduate assistant at UMass and after one season, was promoted to wide receivers coach.

“He’s a good coach and the things he’s learned over his time playing receiver, he brings those things, the little things,” Whipple said. “The fundamentals, the work ethic, how to study film and all things that way. That’s why he played in the NFL and playing with those records at Miami. He’s a great role model for those guys.”

“It couldn’t be a better opportunity to put me,” Hankerson said. “Playing with Coach Whip for two years at Miami, I learned a lot from him. It was a good deal just to come over and get back and reunite with Coach Whip and Spencer Whipple and to come over and help out.”

Hankerson did admit it was a bit of a challenge going from a graduate assistant role to a wide receivers coach at first, but it didn’t take too long to adjust.

“I mean you have a whole lot more responsibilities,” Hankerson said. “It’s your room, like all the receivers are my guys so I have to check up on the guys. I have to make sure they’re doing the correct things on the field, off the field and it’s fun.”

Much like getting to the NFL, being a successful college football team doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why Hankerson constantly stresses to his group of receivers that mastering the intricacies of the game is vital. It’s also one of his main aspirations as a coach of the Minutemen.

“Right now, my goal as a coach is to develop each and every one of my guys to be the best they can be,” Hankerson said. “Getting them to be what they can’t see. It’s simple goals, but at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. Getting my players to be the best they can be. Getting in and out of the routes, attacking the ball and doing the small things every single time.”

Three weeks in, the Minutemen are 1-2 with senior Andy Isabella serving as the only consistent target for quarterback Andrew Ford amongst the receiving corps.

If UMass is going to win some more games, other receivers like Brennon Dingle, Sadiq Palmer, Jacoby Herring and Jessie Britt must become more viable pass-catching options.

It won’t be a quick fix and it’s going to take some work; but luckily for UMass, Hankerson is not one to shy away from working hard.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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