BATON ROUGE, La. -- Imagine how difficult it must be just to compete for playing time at LSU, one of the nation’s preeminent college football programs.
Then consider how tough it would be to focus on that competition, plus all of the other obligations that come with being a student-athlete, shortly after becoming a parent. And not just any parent, but one who spent much of the last two months wondering whether his son would even survive after arriving 15 weeks ahead of schedule.
That has been Quantavius Leslie's life since Jan. 30, when Quantavius Meshawn Leslie Jr. -- all 1 pound, 4 ounces of him -- arrived, just two days before his dad’s 22nd birthday.
“It was crazy,” Leslie recalled of the day that Quantavius Jr.’s mother, Pamela Byrd, called with the news that the baby was soon to arrive. “I got the phone call at like 5 o’clock and she was like, ‘I’m about to have my baby.’ I feel like I blanked out. I forgot I had a car here. My mind was just everywhere, but I still made it there on time.”
The ensuing weeks were a whirlwind, filled with two-hour trips between Baton Rouge and Mississippi -- where he attended junior college before transferring to LSU last year -- to visit mother and child at the hospital.
Those trips were life-changing, Leslie said, because of the newfound perspective they provided while his son was clinging to life. Father would sit next to son, reach in to hold his tiny hand and talk to him, hoping to simply hear him cry or open his eyes.
“It changed my whole perspective on life, like how I look at things and everything,” Leslie said. “I realized that now I’ve got a son in my life. I’ve got somebody that I can call mine. Now I’ve got to do the right things for him -- do the things that I want my son to do and be the person that I want my son to grow up to be.”
It was touch-and-go for a while. Doctors performed surgery about five weeks after the baby arrived, searching for the cause of Quantavius Jr.’s bowel problems. But the baby has made steady progress since then, is now up to 2 pounds, 4 ounces and could finally go home from the hospital in May.
Today he celebrates his nine-week birthday.
“He’s doing good,” Leslie said. “He’s moving around, drinking his milk and using the bathroom and everything.”
Since then, there have been a series of small milestones for the baby. Take this rapid-fire sequence of March 19 posts from Leslie’s Twitter account, where he frequently shares updates on Quantavius Jr.’s progress.
“It brought tears to my eyes when I first heard my son cry,” he posted, followed moments later by, “A whole six weeks without hearing no sounds from him. That really motivated me. Anything is possible.” Then he concluded with, “If he can fight through this, what can’t I fight through?”
Dad’s doing pretty well lately himself.
He was a touted receiver prospect when he signed with the Tigers last year, but accounted for just one catch during the season. After playing in a spread offense at Hinds (Miss.) Community College, Leslie admits he initially struggled to pick up the intricacies of playing receiver in LSU’s pro-style passing game last season -- and his limited involvement attested to those issues.
Depth issues at receiver all but assured that Leslie would play a bigger role this spring, however, and the 6-foot-4 senior might have turned a corner in last Saturday’s closed scrimmage. He led the team with four catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns and gained a major confidence boost.
“I honestly think that’s what I needed,” he said. “I kind of needed that momentum to build off of.”
Becoming a father played a role in that progress, Leslie said, just as it has in every aspect of his life -- “football player, student, person. All that.”
Maybe that’s also what he needed. Leslie probably wouldn’t wish on anyone the fearful and heart-wrenching moments his family endured over the last two months, but things finally appear to be looking up both for Leslie and his nine-week-old namesake.
“I realized that God makes no mistakes,” Leslie said. “He put me in this situation for a reason. I’ve just got to handle my situation as a man and just take care of my responsibilities because I know I can get my education here [and] hopefully I can get drafted and I can take care of my son.”