Allante Leapheart’s journey to GV: a decade in the making


GVL / Lauren Seymour

Holly Bihlman, Sports Editor

The recruitment process for the Grand Valley State University football team doesn’t begin and end with statistics and headshots, especially when someone like Allante Leapheart enters the room. When coach Matt Mitchell evaluates new recruits to build his team, high character personalities are what he looks for first and foremost. 

When Leapheart entered the transfer portal at 28-years old, he had already played football for a number of years at several schools. Mitchell was interested in meeting the person behind the impressive statistics that Leaphart racked up since his high school graduation. 

“He was in my office for a while and just kind of went through his whole backstory,” Mitchell said. “(He was in) a very unique situation and we just really appreciated his grit. You know, he’s been through a lot, and we really saw a guy that was hungry yet humble and we thought he’d be a great fit for our squad.” 

The story behind GVSU’s newest cornerback starts when he was a kid, growing up on the west side of Detroit with his mom, grandma, and two uncles. Leapheart was always told from a young age to focus on school by his grandma, who was a third-grade teacher. 

“I was pretty much a momma’s boy; really grandma’s boy,” Leapheart said. “I love my grandma. She installed into me that school is going to be the way to get out because you know, we lived in a not-so-good area, so she was like, ‘this is going to be your way to get out of all this.’ And she was right.” 

It wasn’t until he was old enough to throw a football that his uncle signed him up to play. As a natural-born athlete, Leapheart can’t remember a time without football always being a part of his life. He remembers being around the game whether it was going to see his uncles play on Fridays with his grandma, watching it on Sundays with his family, or wishing he was tall enough to play quarterback.

When his grandmother passed away, Leapheart was only ten years old. With her gone, it never stopped Leapheart from listening to her words of advice and he found a way to honor her. 

Graduating from high school in 2011, Leapheart and his family were set on encouraging him to try out for the Grand Rapids Community College football team. Due to the circumstances with his family life, however, he made the bold and brave decision to stay behind and help his mom. Yet to him, it was hardly a decision at all. 

“It was just easy for me to do,” Leapheart said. “Even though I love football, I love my mom even more. My mom wanted me to go to school because she wanted me to get away. I felt as though if I did get away and she ended up in a bad place, I would’ve felt bad. I just felt like I needed to do that.” 

Once his mom settled down with her new husband after Leapheart spent four years or so working odd jobs and helping out with the bills, Leapheart finally made the jump to college, ending up in Ukiah, California at a junior college called Mendocino. 

The season was nothing short of rewarding after his football hiatus. Leapheart nabbed five interceptions and 49 tackles, earning himself all-conference honors.

“I went from having a really good freshman year, having some really good schools, power fives and stuff looking at me, to not even having a team anymore within a month,” Leapheart said. 

Mendocino College ended its football program due to a lack of on-campus housing and affordable living costs for the student-athletes. Leapheart’s opportunity shattered within what felt like moments of him having his passion back. 

Among the frustration and hardship that came with that set of bad news, Leapheart got a call from back home informing him that one of Leapheart’s closest family members was shot and killed, and that the gunman was never found. Alongside the devastation and fury of losing his uncle, he also found an incredible motivation to study sociology in hopes that he would one day become an investigator. 

“Seeing the pain and suffering of my family, my mom and my other uncle, and never getting that satisfaction of knowing the person did that to my family and got their due justice (was heartbreaking),” Leapheart said. “I want to be the person that figures things out and be able to tell the family that we found the person that did this.”

After reuniting with his mother, Leapheart decided to continue to honor the wishes of his family and kept chasing football. In a streak of luck, a friend of his lived just 20 minutes outside of another junior college in California, Santa Rosa, and together they made it their new home. Unfortunately, within the first weeks of workouts, Leapheart found himself in a disastrous scenario for any athlete. 

“I went to catch a ball, and when I stepped, I don’t know, I guess I just stepped too hard without bending my leg, and my knee just blew back,” Leapheart said. “I tore my ACL at a workout. It was so depressing. That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with.” 

Another year had gone and passed, filled with prehab and MRIs, only to spend some time on his own, taking care of himself and working hard on his studies. The hope was nowhere near gone for Leapheart, though. 

In the 2018 season, he returned to the field for another good run. 37 tackles and four interceptions in 10 games and he graduated at the end with an associate’s degree in sociology. 

From California, Leapheart decided to make the transfer to Eastern Kentucky University to play on their Division I team and finish out his bachelor’s degree in sociology, also adding a minor in Criminal Justice. Leapheart not only had an incredibly successful two years at EKU, but also found some of his best lifelong friends. 

“I loved when I was at Eastern,” Leapheart said. “I made some really good friends. (I found) one of the best friends of my life and I guess everything happens for a reason. Before that, I would’ve never gone to a lake, or a river crawl where dudes were driving their trucks into the river; it was crazy.” 

In companionship with his newfound friends and likeness for Luke Combs, Leapheart played in every game for two seasons straight. In 21 games he tallied 63 tackles and three interceptions. 

His days at cornerback were far from over. Leapheart entered the transfer portal and was hounded by several schools, none of which made him feel like more than just a statistic as much as the coaching staff at GVSU. 

“I had a really good conversation with Coach Mitchell,” Leapheart said. “He’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s a really good coach and he’s really good at understanding player needs. I’m all about, ‘what are you going to do to help me make myself better as a player and a person.’” 

This season, Leapheart joins the Lakers as cornerback, and he’s playing with the same amount of strength, grit, and dedication as he has been his entire life. His sights for the NFL haven’t faded either, and despite his age, he has no reason to think this may be his last year playing football. 

“He’s a low maintenance guy and I think part of that comes with his age, his maturity and his experience,” Mitchell said. “He’s not some young guy trying to figure it out. He’s got it.” 

Leapheart’s journey to GVSU has been a slew of roadblocks, heartbreaks and victories, but it’s what makes him the person that he is today and the person that the Lakers have welcomed onto the team. After three transfers already, Leapheart’s final transition to GVSU holds a little bit more value to both him and his teammates as he gets ready to graduate.

“I tell my uncle all the time, like, ‘man, if it wasn’t for you, I don’t know where I’d be in my life,’” Leapheart said. “When you get on that field it’s just like, man, it’s not something everybody gets to do everyday. I’m blessed to be able to do it still and enjoy it, have fun, and I honestly just love it.”

His goals for this season are similar to those of Mitchell’s. Leapheart wants a fantastic year with full stadiums, game highlights, and an environment that will pay for all that he went through on his way here. 

“(I hope to) be a great player, be a great teammate, help Grand Valley achieve all that we can, and be remembered for that,” Leapheart said. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t still try. You’re good enough.” 

With the football career that he’s had, being good enough is the least of Leapheart’s worries. When his last year is over, Leapheart won’t be forgotten among the Lakers and every other school he’s been to before. He’s planning on attending Pro Day this year, but whether he ends up playing for a team in the NFL, in a league overseas, coaching or just focusing on his journey to becoming an investigator, he’ll always have football in his life.