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Retired Redskins wideout coaching at UMass

  • Atlanta Falcons wide receiver and UMass coach Leonard Hankerson (85) works against the Washington Redskins during a 2015 NFL game in Atlanta. AP photo

  • Former Washington Redskins wide receiver and current UMass coach Leonard Hankerson tries for the touchdown after being knocked out of bounds just shy of the goal line against the Chicago Bears in Landover, Md., in 2013. AP photo

  • Former NFL wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is beginning his coaching career at UMass. THOM KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Former NFL wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is beginning his coaching career at UMass. THOM KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY/UMASS ATHLETICS



For The Recorder
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

AMHERST — It’s been six years since Leonard Hankerson last worked with coach Mark Whipple at the University of Miami.

Over that time he learned four different NFL offensive systems. But when the two reunited at UMass, where Hankerson begins his first season as an offensive graduate assistant, it took him just an hour with the playbook to get back up to speed.

Playbooks always just made sense to the 28-year-old, who attended Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., powerhouse high school St. Thomas Aquinas. He’d learn not only his assignment on a play, but everybody else’s, too.

It made him a resource to his teammates.

“Even when I was a player, I was still a coach. I knew everything on offense from A to Z. Older players would ask me what I thought on this play. Even the coaches would ask what I thought,” he said. “My mind naturally goes that way.”

Whipple said Hankerson’s knowledge of the entire offense was critical in the 2009 season-opener against rival Florida State.

“In my first season at Miami we lost the X-receiver. (Hankerson) had never even practiced there,” Whipple said. “But he moved over and didn’t make a mistake. He made a big catch for a first down to help us win the game.”

Hankerson had been used sparingly before that in his first two seasons at Miami, but under Whipple, who became the offensive coordinator in 2009, he blossomed.

As a junior, he caught 45 passes for 801 yards and six touchdowns. As a senior, he tied the school record with 13 TD catches as part of a 72-reception, 1,156-yard campaign that helped him become a third-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins.

A series of injuries conspired to limit his professional career to five years. He had stayed in touch with Whipple during his time in the NFL and reached out when it ended.

“He’s been great. He’s always been smart. He loves the game. We always talked in the offseason,” Whipple said. “He’s a guy that cared and had leadership abilities. You could always count on him and always trust him. We have some young guys. With his experience and having played, he’s a great addition. It’s really good situation for those guys.”

Hankerson said starting his career with Whipple made the transition that much easier.

“He knows me. I know him well,” he said. “I had a great two years under Coach Whip. We loved him at (Miami). That’s why I’m here now.”

Having played in the NFL, Hankerson is a living embodiment of what most of the UMass receivers want for their own futures. So when he offers instruction, they’ve been attentive.

“He played five years in the league. He’s an inspiration to us,” sophomore Sadiq Palmer said. “He’s taught us a lot of his moves and things to get us better. We need him. It’s helped a lot.”

Junior Andy Isabella agreed.

“Everybody listens when he’s talking,” he said. “He’s great to have around. He’s brought a lot of energy to us. He’s doing a great job.”

Junior college transfer Jacoby Herring thinks Hankerson’s skill set is a perfect for him to model himself after.

“Looking at Hank is like looking in the mirror. He and I are kind of the same,” Herring said. “We watched film of him, and I try to mimic his routes.”

While he relearned the playbook quickly, Hankerson was eager to absorb other facets of coaching.

“I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “There’s some tricks of the trade that coaches who have been coaching for a long time already know that I have to learn. But it’s been going good.”

Coaching in college appealed more than the NFL.

“I wanted to come back to college because you can teach the younger guys. It’s a little different in the NFL,” he said. “Being that I’ve been in the footsteps they’re looking to go, I’m able to give them a lot of information.”