PUEBLO — CSU-Pueblo lost a fixture to its football program last week when Defensive Coordinator Donnell Leomiti passed away after a seven year battle with cancer.
Leomiti played college football at the University of Colorado before sharing his love for the game as a coach for more than 20 years. He spent the last 12 of those at CSUP.
“He’s kind of one of the guys who’s a cornerstone of this building,” Thunderwolves Head Coach John Wristen said. “When you lose a cornerstone you’ve got to rebuild it or it falls down.”
It’s hard to replace a coach like Donnell Leomiti. Better known around the team as Coach Leo, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the fall of 2013.
“We couldn’t have excuses because of seeing what he was going through,” senior defensive back Marcus Lawrence said. “The man literally came straight from the hospital to the sideline to coach one of our games. That’s just a different breed right there, you don’t see that often.”
“He never flinched, he never said woe me,” Wristen said. “He never had an opportunity to say this is going to stop me from doing my job.”
Wristen brought Leomiti to CSU-Pueblo in 2008 where he spent the last three years as defensive coordinator. Leomiti was named the American Football Coaches Association Division II Assistant of the Year in 2019.
“His competitive spirit will always be remembered, but just his loyalty. His loyalty was tremendous.” Wristen said. “That’s what I appreciate. He was loyal to this program, loyal to his players, and loyal to everybody around here to make us better.”
In the fall of 2016, CSU-Pueblo built the weight room called the Leomiti Warrior Center three years after his initial diagnosis. To his team, Coach Leo embodied the very term named to honor him.
“He was the definition of it,” Lawrence said. “Show up everyday, he could be sick, you could see the energy gone from his eyes, but because of us and how much we meant to him he was willing to sacrifice everything.”
A national title in 2014, conference championships, and nationally ranked defenses only scratch the surface of the impact Leomiti made in Pueblo.
“I just remember a time at practice when things were starting to get intense between the offense and the defense, players talking back and forth, and I made a big tackle and the first person to run on the field, screaming, hyping me up, talking back to the offense was Coach Leo.”
While this program lost a cornerstone, who Coach Leo was is far from lost on this team.
“The best way to honor him is to wake up everyday, don’t have a woe me moment, enjoy every minute you’ve got out of the 24 hours that you’ve got and go for it,” Wristen said. “Go for it, put your head down, go to work and just do your job. If you go do your job, that’s the best way to go honor Donnell Leomiti.”
Leomiti is survived by his wife, Lauren, and five children. He was 47 years old.