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Beyond the U: Leonard Hankerson

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We look back at the path of the Miami wide receiver with the best season in school history.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Miami’s tradition at wide receiver has been extensive, with players like Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, and Santana Moss developing into household names during their respective careers over the last three decades. The Canes’ have put plenty of other productive players in the league along the way, including Travis Benjamin, Lamar Thomas, Allen Hurns, Kevin Williams, Phillip Dorsett, and Eddie Brown among many others. All made their impact at Miami before going to the next level, and many of these names predictably appear among the list of players who set Hurricane receiving records throughout their career.

There’s one player who I specifically didn’t mention because he probably deserves a lot more respect than I think he gets: Leonard Hankerson.

Hankerson came to Miami from St. Thomas Aquinas, where he compiled a staggering 28 receiving touchdowns in his last two seasons. His size (6’2, 210 lbs) and natural instincts for the ball translated to him being one of Miami’s best threats at WR in the red zone in a very long time...arguably ever by the time he left. However, it took time and development for him to get there. In his first two seasons, Hankerson caught 17 passes for 203 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, in Miami’s once-promising 2009 season, Hankerson took a big step forward. He caught 45 passes for 801 yards and 6 touchdowns. He grabbed 4 passes for 72 yards in the thrilling season-opening win at Florida State and had his best game at the end of the season against Duke, catching 8 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.

Hankerson’s rise became meteoric the following season. In fact, his 2010 season still stands as the greatest by a wide receiver in the history of the program - at least statistically. He flashed his rare combination of size, speed, and hands, catching 72 passes for 1156 yards and 13 touchdowns, all of which set school records, and earned first team All-ACC honors. His records for 72 catches and 13 touchdowns in a season still stand.

Hankerson was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He started two games in 2011 before being placed on injured reserve in November after suffering a torn labrum in his right hip. Following surgery, he appeared in all 16 games in 2012, catching touchdowns of 68 and 54 yards while compiling 543 receiving yards on 38 catches. He started 7 of 10 games in 2013 before suffering LCL and ACL injuries against the Eagles in November. He came off the PUP list in November 2014, but struggled to work his way into a starting role among DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Andre Roberts. After becoming a free agent, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons in March 2015. He caught 46 passes for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns before being waived by Atlanta in December 2015 after dealing with a hamstring injury. He caught on at the end of the year with both Buffalo and New England, but did not record any further stats. Those unfortunately would be his last regular season games in the league.

Former Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple saw an opportunity to utilize the talents of his former wideout, bringing Hankerson onto his staff at UMass in July 2017. Hankerson and Spencer Whipple helped UMass’s passing game improve to its second-best catches per game mark in school history (22.67) and third most catches (272) and receiving yards (3,570). Hankerson took a spot at Stephen F. Austin as their outside receivers coach before the 2019 season.

I would have loved to have seen what he could have done in the league with some better luck health-wise, but he suffered a number of debilitating injuries that any one of which could have derailed a career. Given his record-setting production at Miami, I think Hankerson has earned a place in the UM Sports Hall of Fame, and I look forward to the day when he is bestowed with that honor.