Merritt Island’s Leon Bright Among Best Prep Football Players In Florida History
By Space Coast Daily // May 10, 2012
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
LEON BRIGHT – 2012 INDUCTEE
• FHSAA All Century Team
• 50th Anniversary Dream Team
• Leon Bright Charitable Foundation
GREAT SPEED, GREAT LEADER
Leon Bright is among Florida’s most dominant prep football players in history.
A 1974 graduate of Merritt Island High School, he rushed for 4,036 yards and 77 touchdowns in his three-year career with the Mustangs.
During the 1972 season when Merritt Island won the Class 4A State Championship, Bright scored 24 touchdowns and racked up 146 points.
In three seasons, Bright averaged 11 yards a carry as the Mustangs recorded a 30-3 record.
He was named to the Florida High School Athletic Association’s All-Century Team as one of the 33 greatest high school football players in the history of Florida, was named All-State three years and earned, National All-America honors two times.
“Leon just had great speed and quickness,’’ Odom said.
“He worked awfully hard, and he was a great leader.’’
“Neon” Leon was as hard-nosed as they come – just ask any longtime fan of Merritt Island High football. Bright didn’t believe in fair catches – and it didn’t matter if it was high school, college, the Canadian Football League or the National Football League.
IMMEDIATE IMPACT AT FSU
In 1974, Florida State recruited and signed the entire backfield from Merritt Island including Bright’s teammates quarterback Jimmy Black, and fellow running back Waldo Williams.
Bright accepted a football scholarship to Florida State and made an immediate impact as he ran for 105 yards and a score to lead the Seminoles over rival Miami 21-14.
Bright finished the season with 310 yards rushing on 61 carries, and he returned 22 kickoffs for an average of 22.7 yards. One of those kicks went for a 100 yard touchdown – a feat he would later duplicate as the Canadian Football League’s premier kick returner.
As a sophomore during the 1975 season, Bright lead FSU in rushing with 713 yards on 162 carries, and he returned four kickoffs for 140 yards for an impressive 35-yard average.
50th ANNIVERSARY DREAM TEAM
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bright was inactive for the 1976 season at Florida State.
That spring, he signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Bright’s subsequent outstanding season earned him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie, and he was also named a CFL All-Star.
From 1977-1980, Bright played running back, wide receiver, defensive back and kickoff returner for the Lions.
In 2004, he was named to the Lions’ 50th Anniversary Dream Team.
Bright suited up next in the NFL, first for the New York Giants (1981–1983), and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1984-1985).
A workhorse for the Giants in ’81, he rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries; caught 28 passes for 291 yards; returned 52 punts for 410 yards for a 7.9 yard average; and returned 41 kickoffs for a 19.2 yard average.
In 1982 with the Giants, Bright led the NFL in punt returns with an average of 8.8 yards a return. He fielded 37 punts for 325 yards. He also returned four kicks for 72 yards.
During the 1983 season, his last with the Giants, Bright returned 17 punts for 117 yards and average of 6.9 yards a return. On kickoffs, he had 21 returns for 475 yards for a 22.6 yard average.
Bright joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final two years of his NFL career.
In 1984, he returned 23 punts for an average 7.5 yards a kick, and on kickoff returns he averaged of 18.9 yards. In his last season, Bright returned 12 punts for an average of 10.3 yards a return. He added 11 kickoff returns for an average of 19.4 yards.
LEON BRIGHT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
In 2006, he was the head coach for the Daytona Beach Thunder, an arena football team. He also has been the running back coach for the Top Gun Camp.
An assistant coach at Deltona Trinity Christian this past season, Bright has also has been an assistant coach for DeLand High School, Atlantic High School and Lighthouse Christian Academy.
In his free time, Bright runs the Leon Bright Charitable Foundation which assists families and under-privileged children.
THE 2017 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME Banquet and Induction Ceremony will take place at the Cocoa Beach Country Club on Friday, May 12.
FOR INFORMATION OR TO MAKE A NOMINATION to the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame call 321-615-8111 or e-mail MaverickMultimedia@gmail.com