TAMPA — He subsists on a mantra of blood, sweet and tears. Before weightlifting meets and even some football games, Devin Leacock consumes raw honey, as much as a jar of it.
"When I was lifting back when I was in school, our coach was big on sucking down a (raw) honey packet," said Jarret Debus, Leacock's lifting coach at Port Charlotte High. "(Leacock) has basically been a revolution with the honey thing in these weight meets."
A 270-pound defensive tackle who has signed with USF, Leacock will slurp another spoonful or so just before a lift. Then, whether seated at the edge of a weight bench or standing before a bar bedecked with 45-pound plates, he'll reverently lower his head in an effort to mentally lock in.
Then he grips the bar carefully, and hoists it skyward, toward history. The reigning Class 2A champion in the unlimited weight class, Leacock totaled 800 pounds (435 bench, 365 clean and jerk) at last season's state meet. This year, he's expected to break the overall state record of 830.
"My goal is a 900-pound total," he said.
Those familiar with Leacock's backstory like his odds. Beneath the thick torso and behind that perpetual smile lurks a bull terrier of a spirit that, quite literally, got sick of being pushed around and orchestrated his own transformation.
"Devin didn't have it easy," Debus said. "He's really defied a lot of odds truly just because of his work ethic and how hard he's worked to persevere."
The second-youngest of five children, Leacock acknowledges being overweight and suffering from a speech impediment as a grade-schooler in Loxahatchee. An easy target for bullies, he struggled in special-education classes and was forced to repeat third grade.
"Not like a small amount (of bullying), it was a pretty large amount," he recalled. "It goes deep."
So deep, his younger brother Brandon frequently came to his rescue.
"Brandon would punch kids in the mouth and I said, 'You're gonna get kicked out of school, you can't keep doing this,'" said Leacock's mother, Dawn. "He said, 'But they said bad stuff,' and Devin … was the sweetest kid."
Inspired by a PE coach, Leacock began doing push-ups, sit-ups and wall sits on his own. A breakthrough seemed to occur in eighth grade, when he made his middle school basketball team after being cut the year before. But his birthday fell five days before the FHSAA's maximum-age cutoff date, and he was ruled ineligible.
Undeterred, he spent the ensuing summer running stadiums, then joining the football players for preseason conditioning at Seminole Ridge High. When the football team had its first bench-press evaluation, Leacock says he maxed out at 225 pounds.
"And then the coach came up to me and was like, 'You should be on the weightlifting team,' " he said. "I just started from there. But I realized how strong I had gotten from doing push-ups and sit-ups."
By the time the family moved to Port Charlotte prior to Leacock's sophomore year, Dawn said her son had blossomed.
"He would go work out, and he transformed his body from this chubby little kid to what we're seeing now," she said. "He got thin and he made the (Seminole Ridge) football team, and he just changed everything. … Plus, he started getting into normal classes."
Less than three years later, Leacock is a 6-foot-3, three-star football recruit, Port Charlotte's reigning homecoming king, and one of 24 players who signed with USF during the NCAA's early signing period in December.
At least three times a week, he arrives to school well before Debus — and even daybreak — in his green Toyota Camry (replete with Bulls vanity plate, steering-wheel cover and valve-stem caps) to join fellow defensive lineman Luidson Jeanty for a pre-dawn workout.
Debus said if Leacock had his druthers, he'd lift five days a week. Clearly, he remains irked that he totaled "only" 800 pounds at last year's state meet, the result of some technique flaws and a tweaked wrist. But if history is any indicator, that dogged spirit won't rest until 900 is reached.
How else does one evolve from bullied to Bull?
"He's an impressive, impressive person," Debus said.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.