Leanne Hardin the field general of Atlanta Steam’s dominant defense

While the field general is a term usually reserved in football for the quarterback, Leanne Hardin’s military service makes her every bit a field general on the defensive side of the ball. Proudly serving in the United States Air Force, Hardin holds the rank of Staff Sergeant E-5.

Ranking below Technical Sergeant E-6, staff sergeants in the Air Force function as first-line supervisors and fulfill the leadership skills criteria needed to execute such requirements. Fulfilling duties as a Special operations logistics manager in the Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, the values of teamwork were instilled in Hardin long before she enlisted with the Atlanta Steam.

One of the most admirable aspects of her military service occurred in 2013. Of note, she was recognized among 40 empowering women as a nominee for the 4th annual Military Woman of the Year award.

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Having grown up in Western New York, there is no question that the Buffalo Bills played a prominent role in her love of the gridiron game. A gifted athlete who also excelled in softball, her path would eventually lead her to southern regions such as Georgia and South Carolina (where she has been stationed during her military career). For Hardin, there was one pleasant fact heading into the 2015 Atlanta Steam season as wide receiver Heather Urbank, who also grew up in Western New York, suited up for the squad.

As a charter member of the Steam, Hardin has seen the club develop into a powerhouse. Considering that in its earliest incarnation, many cynics thought the expansion club competing for a championship was an impossible mountain to climb. With superior talents such as Hardin, it suddenly became a goal within reach as the squad reached the league championship game in its sophomore season.

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Showing the skill and talent that made her an Eastern Conference All-Star selection in 2014, Hardin provides a performance on the field that is resonant. Adorning her visage in makeup, paying homage to the wrestling superstars of the 1980s and 1990s, it serves as an essential element that transforms the momentum of the locker room into one composed of pure adrenaline. As a side note, teammate Jenny Mac, who also engages in the same pregame ritual, is known affectionately as the Skull Kid. Such creative aspects fuses the feelings of intimidation and admiration, a unique amalgam likely felt by fans and foes alike, synchronously capturing their imaginations.

Having anchored the Steam defensive unit in a milestone victory a few weeks ago, it is part of a team milestone that shall remain preserved in the memories of their devoted fans. Setting a Legends Football League record for the largest margin of victory (a 79-0 whitewash against the Omaha Heart), she returned an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game.

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

Equally admirable is her strong sense of friendship and compassion. When Steam teammate Tiana Lopez suffered a horrible accident, nearly costing her life, it was Hardin who went to social media showing her support and providing information to other concerned parties. Along with teammates Dakota Hughes (the recipient of the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year Award) and Coco Montgomery, this titanic trio participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, showing an inspiring side as sporting humanitarians.

While the reality of the sport, with its obligatory aches and pains, is far different from the perception of glamour and sex appeal in female sport, it only adds to the value of the heroic dreams. For Hardin, such dreams consist of a league championship, which would certainly add punctuation to the pregame streaks of sweat, dirt and smeared makeup that result in the game’s epilogue.

A quiet superstar, whose accomplished glories are those shared with her Steam sisters, her sense of life is truly based in success. Juggling family, military and athletic obligations, her efforts in sporting equality are destined to elevate the Steam to a loftier place in league lore.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, Hardin is a true American hero. While her contributions to the Air Force do not have the same emotional impact as her gridiron game, the hard work, discipline and team first approach runs simultaneous in both aspects of her remarkable life.

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