Undoubtedly, the greatest defensive player in the history of the Atlanta Steam, the return of Leanne Hardin to the fold is one of the most pleasant surprises as the season opener approaches. During the offseason, Hardin, a charter member of the franchise, had contemplated retirement, with dreams of possibly starting a family. She was part of a group of key player losses for the Steam, which included Jodie Nettles, another charter member, to retirement and Jenny Mac, known affectionately as the Skull Kid, to free agency.
Even in the offseason and during training camp, the Steam still held a cherished place in Hardin’s heart. Considering the close friendships made, Hardin was always proud to help show her support via social media, whether it was a word of encouragement for a player or when the club had a special event, such as a meet and greet, in the community.
Although the Steam have done an admirable job of tapping into free agency to fill several holes in its roster, there is no question that chemistry is an essential component to team success. Taking into account the loss of both Mac and Nettles, Hardin’s return was a much-needed boon. While the club still features elite signal caller Dakota Hughes, the reliable Dina Wojowski, winner of the inaugural In the Trenches Award, and MVP candidate Lauran Ziegler, Hardin’s return means that the club will have an anchor on defense.
Retaining her familiar number 20, Hardin shall definitely be a key figure in the Steam’s leadership core, as she has been during every season. A tireless worker who unselfishly works towards the greater goal of victory, she will definitely help set the example for the rookies and newly acquired free agents. While hardcore fans of the Steam were surprised that Hardin was not included among the league’s list of the Top 20 Hottest Players last season, there is no question that when it comes to determination, heart and loyalty to her teammates, she is in a class of her own.
Among multiple competitors gracing the gridiron this season that are also brave and honorable members of the US military, it is testament to Hardin’s status as a leader. In addition to Hardin, Katie Whelan, a nominee for NCO of the Year dons the Seattle Mist colors, while the expansion Austin Acoustic feature Tiffany Merritt. These three exceptional women are all worthy of the role model moniker, each embodying the values of respect, achievement and hard work.
Considering that the Steam are the most successful expansion team in the history of Legends Football League, the one accomplishment that has eluded the club is a championship, the ultimate pinnacle in any team sport. With a wave of expansion that has brought change throughout the league, and an arch rival in Chicago whose quarterback picture is still a work in progress, there is no question that this may be the Steam’s greatest chance to hoist the Legends Cup. As the arrival of Hardin only strengthens the team’s composition, further solidifying its strong team culture, there is no question that her return may prove to be the final piece to the ambitious championship puzzle, while bringing her exceptional career full circle.