Julia Leonard (left) and Eric Leonard (right) in action during soccer games. Collegian file photo.
JOSHUA DOERING | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric did what any young soccer player would do after seeing a ball on the ground. He kicked it, and ended up nailing his sister in the face.
He thought that Julia was crying because she got hit, but the headshot was not the source of the tears at all. The ball knocked her first tooth out, and she couldn’t find it.
“It’s a special thing,” Eric’s teammate, Eric Dick, said. “Lenny’s a huge family person, same with Julia for sure. He’s always talking to his family after the game, before the game.”
Eric has played 61 games in his Butler soccer career. His parents were at every single one.
Watching Eric take on St. John’s University Saturday night, Scot and Monica Leonard cheered on their son and his teammates, yelling words of encouragement. They gasped whenever a Bulldog went down with an injury and high-fived when Butler won in overtime for the fourth time in nine games.
Eric likes to keep his parents on the edge of their seats.
“It’s four years, but it’s a short window,” Scot said. “We agreed with one another and we said, ‘This four years, we’re gonna make some sacrifices.’”
The four-hour trip from their home in Palatine, Illinois, to Indianapolis or wherever the team plays is hard enough by itself.
Adding Julia’s 20 games to the mix creates even more of a logistical challenge for their parents. Still, they try to make it to as many games as possible.
“We want them both to know they’re equally as important,” Monica said. “They’ve both been very supportive of each other.”
The sacrifice the Leonards make are nothing new.
There was the time Eric got back from his high school prom at 1 a.m., only to be woken up again three hours later to drive to his game at 9 the next morning.
Or the prom when Eric’s date and her parents drove up to Milwaukee to come get him. She was dressed up and all ready to go when he hopped in the car, dripping with sweat after finishing a game.
There are countless weekends of splitting up, usually mom with Julia at her game, dad with Eric at his.
“They’ve just been there since day one,” Eric said of his parents. “They’re the reason why I’m the soccer player — and I’d say — the man I am today.”
“Don’t worry about it,’ Julia told her parents. “Go to Eric’s game. This is his last year here. I’ve got three more.”
Julia and Eric spent one year together at William Fremd High School before Eric headed to Butler.
Even though they were in different states and time zones, Julia still kept close tabs on Eric’s soccer career and watched him become a member of the 2014 Big East All-Rookie Team. If she wasn’t at his games, she watched on the Big East Digital Network.
“The easiest way to say it is she’s probably my best friend,” Eric said. “We just competed against each other and just kind of worked off each other. She’s always been one of my number one supporters.”
Competition occasionally led to some tense moments between the Leonard siblings.
“The only time we ever took it out was on the soccer field, downstairs in the basement trying to play soccer,” Julia said. “That was our way, I guess, of getting aggression out on each other. We had a great relationship and our parents wanted to make sure we always had that.”
Scot cleared out an area in the back of the basement and put two mini soccer nets up. Eric would always win.
Basement pipes were broken. Tears were shed.
Once Julia went through the college selection process, her brother supported her no matter where she decided to go.
Eric found out Julia got accepted to Butler in true Leonard family fashion: talking to their parents after one of his games and a call from Julia.
“Honestly, that was one of the best moments of my life,” Eric said. “Just hearing that, I was so happy for her.”
Finally, he could let his true feelings show. The Leonard siblings were reuniting.
“I think [our parents] were pushing him to be neutral on it,” Julia said. “I think deep down, he was like, ‘Hey, come here.’”
At home, Eric and Julia would ask how they were doing and talk about life. Between classes and practices, the tradition continues at Butler, thanks to the campus Starbucks.
They’ll talk for 30 minutes or an hour, it doesn’t matter. They’re just checking in on each other. Topics span from updates on Eric’s student teaching to how both of them are doing physically and mentally.
“It’s nice to have one of my motivators, and one of my — I guess you could say heroes — here with me,” Julia said. “Always encouraging me to do more, be myself. Be my best self, I guess you could say, every day.”
Julia scored her first career goal against Chicago State University. Her brother is still without a goal this season.
“I was so happy for her,” he said. “But now we have one Leonard who can score. Now we need to get the other one to start scoring, too. But no — so happy. First collegiate goal. That’s an awesome mark in her career.”
The day will come when Eric won’t be able to get Starbucks with his “best friend” and Julia can’t head over to her “hero’s” apartment whenever she wants.
Julia and Eric are making the most of the time they have left together at Butler until that day comes.
There are still more soccer games to be played and more time to reminisce about broken pipes and lost teeth.