- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

Washington Redskins cornerback Leigh Torrence already is thinking about life after the NFL.

During the 2007 offseason, the Atlanta native interned for Georgia congressmen John Lewis and Sanford Bishop. This year, the Stanford political science graduate volunteered at the National Education Association in the District.

“Education is something I’m passionate about,” Torrence said. “I really enjoyed working at the NEA, where the issues are a little more focused than they are on Capitol Hill, where I did all the typical intern stuff: writing constituent letters, answering the phones. When football is done, I would like to help out some of the kids from the kind of inner-city neighborhood, work on educational policy.”

Jesse Uman, Lewis’ legislative assistant for educational issues, said Torrence wasn’t looking just to meet the one-time civil rights leader in order to have a framed photo to hang on his wall. Torrence really wanted to work and learn.

“When I heard that Leigh was going to be working with us, I took it with a grain of salt, but he was serious,” Uman said. “Leigh attended some briefings on education policy. He helped me write letters in connections with changes to the higher education act that were happening at that time. He’s a very smart guy who wants to make a difference.”

NEA president Reg Weaver also was impressed that an NFL player, one who finished last season as the third cornerback on a playoff team, would make that kind of commitment.

“I wish more people of his stature would give back the way Leigh did,” Weaver said. “He did whatever was asked of him. Leigh is committed to making a difference for young people, especially those facing challenges in urban areas.”

Indeed, Torrence has established the South West Atlanta Youth Foundation (SWAY), which funds programs like his 4th Down Fundamentals camp. On July 16, city councilman Ivory Young presented Torrence with a proclamation in honor of his public service.

“Maybe one day I’ll run for office,” said Torrence, who was student government president at Marist High School in Atlanta and was involved in several campus organizations at Stanford. “But I have some other goals before that.”

In the short term, the 5-foot-11, 179-pound Torrence’s goal is to continue to prove he’s not just a speed player who can run 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds.

“After last year, I think the guys and the coaches have confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself,” Torrence said. “I want to be a starter, so I’m preparing for that. When my number’s called, I’ll be ready. I value my speed, but I want to prove I can do some other things, and I think I’m starting to do that.”

That’s how Torrence’s coaches and teammates see him, too.

“Last year, Leigh got thrown into the fire, and he rose to the occasion,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “I knew he was fast, but I didn’t know what else he had in his repertoire. He’s a real good athlete. He can find the ball, and he’s a gamer. And he’s a very intelligent guy. I can tell he’s had a year of playing. He’s maturing real fast.”

Actually, Torrence’s path to NFL success hasn’t been fast. Having excelled in football, tennis, track and academics in high school, Torrence chose Stanford over Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech because the Cardinal were coming off a Rose Bowl berth, he liked coach Tyrone Willingham and he fell in love with the campus.

Despite starting three years for Stanford, Torrence wasn’t drafted in 2005. He signed with the Green Bay Packers as a rookie free agent but was waived. He caught on with the Atlanta Falcons, for whom he played 10 games on special teams.

Cut by the Falcons in 2006, Torrence signed with the Redskins for the final week of that season. Despite his solid 2007, Torrence will battle fourth-round pick J.T. Tryon for playing time behind Carlos Rogers (when the latter is fully recovered), Smoot and Shawn Springs. But for once, Torrence is favored to stick around.

“Leigh’s experience last year has really made him comfortable this year,” cornerbacks coach Jerry Gray said. “He’s not trying to catch up mentally. When you know what you’re doing, you play faster. We always saw the speed on special teams, but now we see it on defense. That’s the biggest difference. The last four games last year, we played a lot more man[-to-man coverage], and we gave Leigh a chance to be on the field because we played more [with] three corners. That made him more comfortable. And the more comfortable he was, the better he played.”

Torrence showed Antwaan Randle El that in practice last week. A couple of days after the starting receiver beat him for a touchdown, Torrence prevented Randle El from catching Jason Campbell’s well-thrown deep ball thanks to brilliant coverage.

“Leigh can be a pain … like one of those gnats, a little guy, always in your ear,” receiver Santana Moss said. “He’s a scrappy dude. He’s never going to quit. If you catch a ball on him, he’s going to try to punch it out so the next time’s not going to be so easy.”

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