Coach Tom Gilmore paused briefly over the phone as he recalled freshman defensive back Tygee Leach’s early introduction to the Lehigh football program.
After gathering his thoughts, he chuckled to himself.
“He has had no trouble at all fitting in here,” Gilmore said. “He’s someone that really draws people in. I think that’s part of his priorities—being a good teammate—because it’s pretty evident the way he conducts himself that being a productive member of the team is really important to him.”
Gilmore and defensive coordinator Mike Kashurba said Leach made a seamless transition from high school to college football, and his mature mindset makes him a unique player and a valuable asset to the future of the program.
Leach said he faced competition throughout his childhood. But instead of cowering, he embraced it.
From Norristown, Pennsylvania, Leach is one of six siblings. He also played basketball and ran track in high school.
He said in a way, competition was always around him, whether he was at a practice, in a game or at home with his family.
Becoming accustomed to the concept of rivalry from a young age, he said, helped him learn how to enjoy competition, even if he was consistently one of the youngest in the room.
“There’s always—with my older siblings and sports—hanging around their friends, having older people around me and having the mindset of always competing and having fun while doing it,” Leach said.
Leach said there’s more to him than playing football. He prioritizes learning and teaching to improve both his own game and the team’s game.
Coming from a family with wide age ranges among his siblings, Kashurba said Leach has not had trouble helping or getting help from teammates.
“I think it also adds to his ability to relate to guys who are a little bit further ahead than he is or guys who are a little bit further behind than he is,” Kashurba said. “And rarely do you see a guy who’s the same class, same year, same age, who’s bringing along fellow teammates at this early stage in the process.”
Although Leach is considered a mature player for his age, he said he still tries to make practices fun and keep spirits high. Leach said he strives to maintain his liveliness regardless of the team’s success and loves to joke around with his teammates.
But Leach said he knows when it’s time to switch off his playful nature.
He said his favorite part of a game-day is the bus ride to an away game or moments in the locker room before a home game, when all of the players take time to themselves to focus. He takes these moments very seriously, he said.
Apparently, sometimes too seriously, according to junior defensive back Tre Cundiff.
Cundiff said Leach gets so focused sometimes that it can be difficult to get him out of the zone, even for a brief moment.
“When I see him before the game I try to talk to him and everything, but I can see that he’s focused and locked in,” Cundiff said. “He wants to be great.”
Leach asserts his focus in practice, too. He said he arrived at Lehigh prepared not only to play, but to learn, and he commits himself to improving every day.
“He comes in ready to do his work every day,” Gilmore said. “He seems really dedicated to improving every day, and he was one of those guys who, soon after he got here, you could tell was intent on learning the defense, learning the ins and outs so he could go out there and physically execute them.”
Leach was named Patriot League Special Teams Player of the Week after he blocked a Merrimack punt—Lehigh’s first blocked punt since 2017—that was instrumental in Lehigh’s game-tying field goal in its 10-3 victory over the Warriors on Sept. 28.
Leach made his first career start in Lehigh’s 21-14 win against Colgate on Oct. 5.
Kashurba said Leach will undoubtedly play an integral role in the future of Lehigh’s football program.
“When a guy’s got the mental makeup that (Leach) does, he’s going to be in control of his future, his development, his destiny,” Kashurba said. “He’s had a huge role in our defense since the first day, he’s played more and more snaps each week and he’s finally getting to start now. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t ever not start a game again.”
The Mountain Hawks will continue Patriot League play at Goodman Stadium on Oct. 26 against Georgetown University.