The list of what senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir provides the Southern Illinois offense is a long one.
“He’s played inside,” head coach Nick Hill said. “He’s played outside. He’ll block on the perimeter. He’s a good route runner. Incredibly smart.”
What Lenoir did in practice last week, however, was even more impressive to Hill.
With injuries and smaller rosters amid COVID-19, SIU isn’t able to simulate opponents as well as in a normal season.
“We don’t have enough players for a full scout team on both sides of the ball,” Hill said.
That is, until Lenoir entered the picture to help his defensive teammates prepare for a critical win against Southeastern Louisiana, which helped SIU (5-3) make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The Salukis (5-3) travel to Weber State (5-0) for a 3 p.m. first-round game (ESPN3).
“You’ve got Landon out there running scout team so the defense can get a look on Southeastern Louisiana plays so (safety) Qua Brown can get better,” Hill said. “I told him the other day, ‘It’s inspiring to us.’”
After lending a hand to teammates in practice, Lenoir put up seven catches for 128 yards in the 55-48 SIU victory last Saturday for his most productive game of the season.
Through consistency and a work ethic honed by two NFL wide receivers in his family, Lenoir has been a valuable piece of the Saluki attack this spring.
From DB to WR
When he started playing football in fifth grade, Lenoir began on the opposite side of the ball.
“I played defensive back in my younger days,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a DB. I looked up to Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson. My freshman year of high school, I started playing receiver because (older brother) Lance was a receiver. He was a senior when I was a freshman. I’ve been a receiver ever since.”
Lance Lenoir parlayed his success at Crete-Monee High School into a storied career at Western Illinois and time spent with both the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.
The Lenoir’s cousin, Laquon Treadwell, was a first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings and played last season with the Atlanta Falcons.
Having two NFL mentors has helped Landon Lenoir build a solid football foundation.
“Both of them really took my game to the next level,” he said. “The way those guys train, and their conversations, they’re so high level. In quarantine, I was working out with those guys. Being around that, you can’t help but try to get to a high level just like them.
“They put me to the test every day and tried to test my IQ,” he said.
A pro’s mindset
Spending so much time with his brother and cousin has given Landon Lenoir a professional mindset that teammates notice each day.
“Landon’s methodical,” SIU quarterback Stone Labanowitz said. “The way he cares about his feet and his foot placement and his hand placement is professional. I think that rubs off on us, offensively, when we’re sloppy in practice or if we’re getting lax during a game. You look his way and he’s been the same from the first snap to the last snap.”
Mastering small details, honing his skills and approaching the game as professionals do is a trait he ties back to his two receiving mentors.
“My brother has been instilling that in me ever since I came into college,” Landon Lenoir said. “Every step of the way he’s had in the NFL, I’m right there with him. I’m having talks with him, understanding what he’s understanding.”
That professionalism also extends to the locker room.
“Off the field, he’s super wise and experienced,” Labanowitz said. “You feel like he’s been here 10 years. He knows everybody’s personality, how to approach everybody, who needs to hear what.”
Jack of all trades
The perfect picture of what Landon Lenoir contributes to the SIU offense can be seen on the film of last weekend’s game, according to his head coach.
“He might have had the best game of his career last week, starting with the big post to start the game,” Hill said.
Lenoir’s 43-yard, first-quarter catch set SIU up in the red zone on its first drive and was followed by several other memorable plays.
“He caught a tunnel screen that went for about 40 yards,” Hill said. “He ran a great route in the red zone against tight coverage. I think he proved last week he can do a little of everything.”
Those skills have helped put Lenoir at No. 5 all-time in SIU history in receptions (133) and No. 7 in receiving yards (1,577). But those numbers have come at a consistent pace.
In the conference-only spring season, he is averaging a career-best 53.5 yards a game and has tied his single-season best with three touchdowns.
“It’s just been steady,” Lenoir said of his career, which started by playing as a true freshman in 2016 then losing the following season to injury. “You always strive to get more, but when you take a look back and look at it, the things I’ve accomplished over the years have been pretty satisfying,” he said.
When Lenoir wants the football, he has a certain way he speaks.
“There’s a quote he always uses,” Labanowitz said. “’Trust me. Throw that (ball).’ I won’t say the word he uses (for ball). But I laugh every time because he’s so serious when he says it.”
Lenoir’s phrase has helped build trust with his quarterback in big moments.
“I tend to look for him on third downs,” Labanowitz said. “In bigger moments in the game, I tend to look Landon’s way just because he’ll always be in the right spot.”
Those big moments this spring have included a touchdown catch against then-No. 1 North Dakota State in February during SIU’s biggest win in a decade.
“I try to do my part, being reliable and knowing they’re coming to me on third downs,” Lenoir said. “I take great pride in that. I don’t want to let my teammates down. I love that I can take on that challenge.”