The tattoo across Cre’Von LeBlanc’s chest reads “THE CHOSEN ONE,” and it isn’t really an ego thing.
LeBlanc said his mom, Lawanda, wasn’t supposed to have any more children after his older brother, Craig LeBlanc Jr., was born. When she became pregnant with Cre’Von, doctors advised her to terminate, and they gave the same advice, with more urgency, when complications ensued.
“The doctor told her it was basically me or her,” LeBlanc said Thursday.
Lawanda turned to her pastor and to prayer instead, and, today, LeBlanc, at 24, is the Eagles’ nickel corner, a stalwart in a rebuilt secondary that will be tested by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game at New Orleans.
The pastor and his wife "came up and prayed with her, and it was like, ‘No, you’re going to have this baby, and he’s going to be something special,’ ” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc was “14 or 15” when he got the tattoo, and because his parents didn’t know he was getting it, he had to sneak around them. Since then, it has taken on a more-poignant meaning. Craig LeBlanc died of a heart attack at age 44, when Cre’Von was a high school sophomore, his father slumping over in the passenger seat of the family car, with Cre’Von sitting in the back.
Craig LeBlanc Jr., in whose football footsteps LeBlanc followed, is serving a life sentence in a Wewahitchka, Fla., prison at age 32, for shooting a man to death outside an Orlando nightclub. He had been released from another prison term not long before the 2011 incident, which ended in an armed encounter with police. In his mugshot, Craig Jr., also has a prominent tattoo – three teardrops below his left eye. Not visible in the mugshot but listed among his arrest details is a left-arm tattoo that reads, “Better to die on your feet than to live a life on your knees.”
So, LeBlanc is the chosen one, the only surviving male member of his family who has made it out of Belle Glade, Fla., and the sugarcane fields -- a place where, in 2010, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office estimated that half the men age 18 to 25 had felony convictions.
“That’s how I felt, being the chosen one of my family, like everything falls on me,” LeBlanc said.
Belle Glade is not for everyone, he said. “It’ll turn you into a totally different person.”
LeBlanc said he sees his brother every day, in a sense. “We JPEG, we send videograms to each other,” he said.
LeBlanc, tightly muscled at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2016, and he signed with the Patriots. His one-handed interception – against New Orleans, no less – in his first preseason game garnered attention, but he didn’t make the team and ended up with the Bears, playing 28 games over the next two years, with 10 starts. Chicago, with a new coaching staff, cut him just before this season. LeBlanc caught on with the Lions, who waived him on Nov. 3, just as the Eagles, in the midst of an injury crisis, were mounting a desperate search for secondary help.
“I don’t know where we’d be without Cre’Von,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said this week. “Midway through the season, [vice president of player personnel] Joe Douglas came to me and said, ‘Hey look, there’s this guy that just became available, and our scouts have a good feel for him.'
“Some of those guys that work in those back rooms without a light, without a window, and stuff like that, and they are poring over all these guys that get cut," Schwartz said. "Well, that might have been the key to our season, putting the waiver claim in on -- I had never heard of Cre’Von LeBlanc before, and they brought him and said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about claiming this guy,’ and it was right before the Saints game last time.”
Actually, Schwartz had heard of LeBlanc, he admitted. He just didn’t remember the name.
Late in a 31-3 Eagles victory over the Bears last season, Jay Ajayi was running free, about to score, and this guy came hustling up and punched out the ball. Nelson Agholor fell on the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown – 2017 was that kind of year, for the Eagles and for the Bears – but Schwartz remembered the determination, the hustle.
Of course, LeBlanc had no idea then that he would end up playing for the Eagles a year later. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen in November, when Detroit waived him, probably with plans to stick him on their practice squad. Then, the Eagles called, and they did not want him for any practice squad.
Starting corners Jalen Mills (foot) and Ronald Darby (knee) would be lost for the season before LeBlanc saw his first defensive snaps in the 48-7 blowout loss to the Saints on Nov. 18. Nickel corner Sidney Jones suffered a hamstring setback in that game. The team was playing De’Vante Bausby, who was cut from the practice squad in September, and Chandon Sullivan, a rookie brought up from the practice squad. Starting safety Rodney McLeod also was on injured reserve, which shifted rookie corner Avonte Maddox to safety for a while; he was back at corner when he injured a knee and ankle against the Saints, causing him to miss the next three games.
That day in New Orleans, LeBlanc wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to be doing or who all these guys were he was playing with, but he did the best he could.
“That was a tough one,” he said. “Things were new for me.”
In seven games since New Orleans, LeBlanc has played at least 63 percent of the defensive snaps. In Chicago on Sunday, against his former teammates, he played 80 percent.
LeBlanc’s steady play at nickel allowed Schwartz to move Maddox outside when he returned. Maddox, LeBlanc, and Rasul Douglas have solidified the corner position, even if none of them had a role in the Eagles’ defense when the season began.
“I don’t know why he got cut" by Detroit, Douglas said. "He’s good, and he knows the game.”
LeBlanc said he didn’t panic when Detroit let him go, any more than when he had to face Drew Brees and the Saints before he knew what he was doing in Schwartz’s scheme.
“You can’t be down on yourself for too long in this league – things are going to happen," he said. "You’re going to get hurt, you’re going to get released. That’s just the business part of it. You’ve got to still hold your head high, still have faith in the man above … . I would say he won’t bring you this far to leave you.”
LeBlanc will have a lot of family at the game Sunday – not his brother, but his mom, his aunts, his girlfriend. He hopes they see a different player and a different team than the last time the Eagles visited the Saints.
“Night and day,” he said about the difference. “We had a lot of new guys trying to figure things out on the fly, on the run. Now, the group of guys we have out there, we stickin’ to it, we runnin’ with it. Everything’s fun, everything’s just happening in our favor. That’s a fun thing ... . We’re on a roll right now, and we believe in each other.”
Here are the nine players who have appeared at cornerback for the Eagles this season: