Darcy Leslie

After a five-year hiatus from football, Darcy Leslie now aims for a championship with Boston Renegades

June 23, 2023
KAt Cornetta, Boston Globe

Once Darcy Leslie took the field for the Boston Renegades, it came back so quickly.

“It was kind of like an out of the body experience,” said Leslie. “It all just started clicking. I just reached down each rep, and I started feeling like myself again.”

It was no small feat to even be out on Harry della Russo Stadium with the Renegades, the — time defending Women’s Football Alliance champions. Before she took the field for that game against the D.C. Divas, Leslie had not taken the field in a WFA game in over five years. A mom of two and a business owner, she had mostly put football in her rearview mirror. 

But at the end of that April 29 game, Leslie’s football bug was back for good – a benefit to both the Renegades, who won that game over the Divas 63-6, and to Leslie. 

“At the end of the game I had nine tackles, which was pretty cool,” she said with a laugh. 

Leslie and the Renegades’ have continued to roll, with an undefeated 5-0 record entering Saturday’s regular season finale at the Pittsburgh Passion. They are currently outscoring opponents 333-31, and sit atop the National Division heading into the playoffs that begin June 24th.

Leslie and the Renegades are preparing to take on the D.C. Divas in the first round of the playoffs. KEN MCGAGH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Dominating opponents isn’t new for Leslie. From 2009-2017, she was a defensive superstar of the Chicago Force, a juggernaut that came the closest to resembling the current dominance of the Renegades. The franchise won ten division titles, three conference titles and the 2013 league title. Leslie herself was the 2013 Conference Player of the Year and a multi-time All-American, and was the team’s Defensive MVP every year.

Despite the Force’s successes, they took the field for the last time on July 8, 2017 – ironically, against the Renegades. Boston defeated them in the third round playoff game 44-37. After the game, Leslie retired, and the Force ceased operations in the leadup to the 2018 season.

Leslie doesn’t so much retire from sports, but find new ones to try. Football had been Leslie’s next step after a three-sport career in college. She became a NJCAA Hall of Famer after captaining the volleyball, basketball and softball teams at Illinois’ Oakton Community College. After her career with the Force was over, she turned to CrossFit, competing, coaching and owning a gym.

She initially kept one foot in the football world by participating with the 2018 Women in Careers in Football forum. Via that program, she earned an internship with the New York Jets’ scouting department.

“For me, it was amazing to see the scouting portion of things,” said Leslie. “Just to spend some time learning what it is that these teams are looking for, how to better see what players are good, and what players need a little bit of work.”

But Chicago was home, and after her time with the Jets, Leslie returned home to marry her wife, Brandy, and start a family. Running her gym and raising two sons kept her busy. Her new life also included getting U.S. citizenship in 2021, something she had sought for years after coming to the States from Belize as a six-year-old. 

Having U.S. citizenship unlocked the lone football accolade that had been missing from Leslie’s career: the ability to play for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football’s Women’s World Championship. It occurs every four years, and the 2022 edition would be the first Leslie would be eligible for. 

“The USA trials came up and I thought, ‘Should I do this?’” said Leslie. “It was not the ideal time. My wife and I had just bought a house, and our baby Leon would be a month old at the time of the championships. But you know what? This is something that I’ve always wanted to do my entire football career. I had a pretty deep football career, but that was one thing I felt like I missed out on.”

So despite being off the gridiron for five years, she tried out and made the team. 

“I had wondered what kind of football career I would’ve been if I had these years worth of CrossFit,” said Leslie. “My strength has increased. My cardiovascular ability has increased. It’s actually been fun being back on the field and putting myself to the test. CrossFit definitely helped me stay ready, even though I didn’t think I was trying to keep myself ready to go back to football.”

Leslie (left) and Renegades quarterback Alison Cahill were in good spirits at practice this week. KEN MCGAGH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

After her gold-medal winning outing with Team USA last summer, the football bug snuck back into Leslie’s life, but no pro team nearby. She was drawn to the Renegades because of their high level of play.

“Before, the Renegades games against the Force were always the one to watch,” said Leslie. “It was always good quality. It wasn’t a blowout. It left that pit in your stomach, because you as a player didn’t know how it was gonna be. Boston feels like home. It feels like the way the Force operated.”

Being a member of the Renegades is not easy. Leslie is commuting from Chicago to Boston to do so, often with her wife and kids in tow. 

“When I envisioned how this would work, I needed my whole family to be there with me,” said Leslie. “I couldn’t just leave Brandy home alone with a bunch of kids while I go do something that fulfills me.”

Now with 20 tackles and a place among the top three defensive players on this season’s deep Renegades roster, Leslie’s comeback seems destined for another WFA title. But her bigger wish is that the sport grows – and not just on the media and business side of the game. 

“We need more athletes,” said Leslie. “We need more talent to help this sport grow. A lot of us are getting older so we can’t do this forever. Boston has a lot of young athletes who are really shining on the team. All of these other organizations just need to pull in more people. It’s a phenomenal sport. Football isn’t just for men. It should be for anyone.”