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Spadaro: 'The ultimate teammate' Matt Leo waits for his opportunity

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

He has been in every meeting, taken part in each practice, worked as hard as anyone in the strength and conditioning room, and knows, just knows, that he is ready for that moment, the time when his number his called.

But every week as the Eagles step onto the field and play a game, Matt Leo is on the sidelines in team-issued gear, cheering on his defensive linemates and helping any way he can. Leo is in his third season on the Eagles' practice squad as part of the NFL International Player Pathway Program, designed to expand the worldwide talent pool for the game and the league.

Should Leo – born and raised in Adelaide, Australia before coming to the United States and playing collegiately at Iowa State – move up for a gameday and suit up, he would lose his designation as part of the program. In his third and final season in the program, Leo will soon have to make a decision about his future.

In the meantime, he is loving every bit of his experience and soaking up wads up football knowledge.

"For me, this development over the last three seasons has been immense from defensive end to defensive tackle and that's really based on the guys that I have in the room and the coaches, because they've invested so much time into me as well, helping me develop as a player, and build confidence through practice and the preseason games," said Leo, who played in 29 games at Iowa State, compiling 33 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 3 quarterback sacks. "For me to get those valuable reps, and to see that growth through that last preseason game, it's an unreal feeling."

At 6-feet-7, 280 pounds, Leo looks the part and the truth is that he has come miles and miles in his football knowledge and ability. He grew up an Aussie kid playing club rugby and Australian rules football, and after high school his father, Michael, pushed him into the trades. Leo became a plumbing apprentice, and if you can imagine a 6-7, 280-pound guy wedging his way into the nooks and crannies of a building's infrastructure, well, it's not a pretty sight. And that's truly what drove Leo to challenge himself and chase a dream in the United States – he banged his head working in tight confines on a 110-degree day and that was the end of his plumbing days.

"I had a conversation one day about a guy from Sydney who earned a partial scholarship for punting and that lit a fire in me. I thought, 'I can punt. I can kick a ball. Maybe that will be my ticket into a new world.' From that point on, the fire was lit and I had to chase it," Leo said. "It was a long process and I sent a lot of emails and tried to make contacts while I was training for the sport, and finally I heard back from Arizona Western Community College and he asked me if I could be there by Wednesday and that was it. I didn't know how to put on pads. I didn't know how to fit into a helmet. I didn't even know what position I was going to play.

"But that was the start of it at the age of 22. I was in the United States and I was playing football."

Now, he's an Eagle at the age of 30, and he's every bit a part of the team. His role during practice is often to play on the scout team and give offensive linemen a look at that week's opponent, something the players appreciate, respect, and know helps them on gamedays.

"That's my guy," guard Isaac Seumalo said. "He's great in practice. He works hard, pushes us, and is the ultimate teammate. He's gotten a lot better as a player since he's been here. You can see better technique in the little things he's doing. I'm thankful he's here. He has helped my game."

Said guard Landon Dickerson: "I can't say enough great things about the guy. He comes to work every day and wants to be a better football player. He loves the game and he loves being here. In practice, Matt gives us great looks and that helps when it comes to gamedays. We're all rooting for him. I love that guy."

As the playoffs approach, Leo knows his role. He is in his third year in the International Program and is technically part of the team's practice squad and he is helping any way he can – in the meeting room, in the strength and conditioning part of the building, in the locker room as an upbeat and positive teammate, and out on the practice field.

It takes far more than one or two or 60 players to win football games, and Leo is part of the Eagles village.

"I love it, every minute of it and I'm grateful for all of this," Leo said. "I still have that fire. I want to be an NFL player, and I know there is so much growth that I need. Consistency is so important on every rep in this league. I see the tricks these guys use and it comes down to developing those instincts and learning how to combat and win against those tricks, rather than watching film.

"For right now, my purpose is to help the offensive linemen. When I see Lane (Johnson) or Isaac or someone come off the field and they look at me and they're smiling, I say, 'How are they?' They tell me, 'He's (nothing) compared to you.' That means everything. That means I've done my job in practice getting these guys ready."

Leo doesn't know what the future will bring, so all he can do is bring it every day and know that his hard work will be rewarded in some way, shape, or form.

"All I can do is trust that everything I've put into this is going to pay off, and it truly already has," he said. "To be part of this every day is just incredible. I want to be out there. God knows, I want to be out there. All I can do is give 100 percent every day, every moment. Push as I hard as I can and learn as much as I can. The speed of this game and these players is just unreal and it's something I never took for granted. College is nothing like the NFL. You can win in college with size and strength. Here, the players have everything.

"I feel I've earned the respect of each of these players. These are my brothers and they've meant so much to me in my life, not just football. I just can't describe how amazing this has been. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. To be a Philadelphia Eagle and to say that I've contributed, I will cherish that for the rest of my life."

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