K-State Sports Extra: Nick Leckey

Source: Melinda Sinn

MANHATTAN, Kan. - It seems like life couldn't get much sweeter for former Kansas State University football player Nick Leckey. He recently wrapped up his sixth year as an offensive lineman in the NFL. He's playing in New Orleans, La., a city he and his wife, Erin, have come to love. And if that weren't enough, he just added "Super Bowl champion" to his resume, following the Feb. 7 New Orleans Saints victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44.

But for Leckey, there's one big thing missing: his college diploma from K-State. With that long-awaited goal in mind, he signed up for Second Wind, a K-State Division of Continuing Education program that helps former K-State athletes finish their degrees online.

"I think the older I get, the more I want that closure. I just want to truly be a part of K-State," Leckey said. "I want to get my degree. I don't want to be just another statistic of an athlete going to school to play football."

Leckey is the first to admit this drive for his degree wasn't always so strong. Back in 2000, as a new high school graduate in Grapevine, Tex., he ventured north to Wildcat country for one reason.

"To be quite honest, I mainly chose K-State because of the fact that they had a winning football program," Leckey said. "But looking back on things, I'm so thankful that I picked K-State because it gave me an opportunity to totally get out of my comfort zone. I loved just being on campus. I loved my professors. I fell in love with the whole state."

In spite of his immediate affection for the university and his success on the football field as a four-year starter who did not allow a single sack during his college career, academics didn't always come so easily.

While originally headed toward a degree in finance, things weren't quite clicking in the classroom. His advisor helped him rethink his path at the beginning of his junior year, leading him to start over in hotel and restaurant management-as a freshman.

Initial concerns aside, the switch in majors turned out to be a blessing, putting Leckey exactly where he belonged.

"I'm so happy I found that major, because that's me," he said. "I'm an offensive lineman. I weigh 300 pounds. I love to eat, I love trying new places and I love traveling, so I couldn't have found a more perfect major."

Having discovered the perfect fit academically, Leckey felt he was finally on the right course. Still, when the NFL came calling in 2004, he was 30 credits shy of his degree, having taken his last semester off to train for the NFL Scouting Combine. And while making it as a professional football player meant the fulfillment of one dream, in the back of his mind, he never let go of that other dream that wasn't quite finished.

So in January 2010, Leckey signed up to go back to school through Second Wind, a program he'd heard about during his days on the football team at K-State.

"Great timing on my part-we were right in the middle of playoffs," Leckey said. "I think my first test was the week after the Super Bowl. But all my teachers were very cool. I sent them an e-mail to let them know my unusual circumstances."

With that scheduling glitch behind him, he has thrown himself into his studies, putting in the hours toward his bachelor's degree in hotel and restaurant management.

For someone like Leckey who lives in New Orleans during the football season, spends the offseason in Arizona and squeezes in visits back to Texas and his beloved college stomping grounds in Manhattan, the online program changes everything.

"The ease of use is amazing. The technology is the only way to do it if you have to work and you're out of state, like me. You don't have to be in two places at one time," Leckey said.

"You go at your own pace. I got a big, month-at-a-glance calendar, and I just wrote in my exam dates, and what was due, and kind of had my reading planned out. And it's worked out great for me."

When he's not studying and doing coursework online, Leckey even maintains his ties to K-State in his first career. In fact, when he took to the field at the Super Bowl, he wasn't the only Wildcat in contention for a title. Linebacker Mark Simoneau represented the Saints from the sidelines due to a season-long injury, and left guard Ryan Lilja faced off against Leckey, his former teammate, with the Colts.

"My buddy Ryan was the starting left guard for Indy, and they won Super Bowl 41. We had dinner on Tuesday of Super Bowl week, and I told him, 'Don't be greedy. You already have a Super Bowl!'" Leckey said.

Leckey emerged victorious in the match-up, joining a lucky few K-State alumni who have earned the right to a Super Bowl ring.

"To go from never having been to the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl is surreal. That's the only way to really, truly describe it," he said.

"You can't have the sweet without the sour. So to be on some teams that have lost and to not have the chance to go to the playoffs, then to win it all-it makes it that much more special."

With his football career moving full-speed ahead-he re-signed with New Orleans in March for the 2010 to 2011 season-Leckey plans to work in classes in the offseason, chipping away at that degree bit by bit.

And when his football career is behind him, whenever that might be, he intends to put his education to work. Leckey's next dream includes getting some experience in the restaurant industry before striking out on his own. 

"I'd like to open a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, Kansas City, or Manhattan. I'm half Mexican-my aunts used to make tamales and tortillas by hand. So I grew up around that, and eating was always a big thing at our family get-togethers," he said.

Whether his second career brings him back to Kansas or not, one thing is for certain. Although he's getting his degree from a distance, Leckey will make his way to Manhattan when it's time for graduation. And he already knows exactly where that diploma will go.

"My wife has an accounting and finance degree from K-State, and I see her diploma up on the wall, and it just looks lonely," Leckey said. "I'm really glad I'm getting it through K-State. I wouldn't want to have it any other way."

For more information about the Second Wind program and other available distance programs, contact the K-State Division of Continuing Education at 1-800-622-2578 or visit http://www.dce.k-state.edu.