It was because of a classic.
A sports classic that is. He never had to go through the stress and pressure of deciding where to go, because he already knew. He knew from a very young age as a kid. He knew it was the place for him, and he would do whatever it took to get there, even though it was more than a thousand miles away.
New athletic director Lee De Leon always wanted to go to college at the University of Notre Dame, and it was all because of the movie Rudy.
“I was 10 or 11 and I saw the movie and I just really fell in love the University of Notre Dame as well as the combination of athletics and spiritual life,” he said. “When I first got the call about Abilene Christian, I told my wife ‘It’s a little Notre Dame.’ They do the same great job about incorporating sports with spiritual life as Notre Dame, and I’d love to be a part of that.”
De Leon was hired as the eighth director of athletics in ACU history on Nov. 13. Before coming to ACU, he spent close to 10 years moving from university to university learning everything he could and waiting for his dream job of athletic director to become a reality.
“In college, I had a friend tell me that I should be an athletic director, and I thought that it was a good idea,” De Leon said. “I got my degree in marketing, so I like being on that end of the table, and plus I just really love sports. I watch ESPN when I wake up in the mornings, in my spare time in the office and definitely before I go to bed. I’m a fanatic.”
A humble man, De Leon has been very grateful for the opportunity he has been presented with at ACU. But one look at his resumé and most people would agree he has reason to boast.
Upon graduating from Notre Dame in 2005, De Leon went on to earn his master’s degree at Texas A&M University. He was then hired for an internship with Louisiana State University. Over the next few years, De Leon spent time at well-established Div. I universities such as the University of Houston and University of Arizona and served as the associate director of athletics for New Mexico University.
“I’ve learned a thing or two during my time at those universities and I’m so grateful to have gotten to learn under the people that I did and gain the experience that I have today,” De Leon said. “I learned that I want the ACU community to have that bleed-purple mindset that they have out at LSU. I learned that I wanted to be a part of a school that was more of a residential university than a commuter school like Houston. I also learned that a big school of 35,000 to 40,000 students isn’t really in my wheelhouse, that something like ACU is more of my size. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve learned something and it all got me to where I am today.”
Coming home to Texas was a major factor for the Houston native. Sweet tea and hearing people say “y’all” was one of the things he claims he missed most about being away. But above all, De Leon wanted to come to Abilene because of its atmosphere.
“Most of my career I have served at big public schools where I haven’t been able to share my faith and ministry,” De Leon said. “This is my calling in life; I want to share my faith and use college athletics as a platform for Christ and an impact for Him. That’s why this job was so appealing to me. Once in a meeting, I got reported to human resources for quoting scripture in front of other people. At that point, it really hit me that this wasn’t the place for me and I needed to find something different.”
Aside from sports and Christ, family is another passion De Leon makes easily known to others and something he highly prioritizes. His wife and two young boys have supported his decision throughout all the change and, at times, chaotic moments.
“Before coming to Abilene, I experienced the most memorable and at the same time nerve-wracking 36 hours of my life,” De Leon said. “My wife, Lacey, went into labor, we had the baby and then I got offered the job within 36 hours. I was at the hospital sitting with my wife and our sleeping newborn son, and I got the call from Dr. Schubert and I’m silent fist-bumping in the air trying not to wake the baby. It was just this moment of not only was our life about to change with a newborn, but now I have my dream job, we’re moving back to Texas; it was just very overwhelming and wonderful.”
After sitting down with this man, it is easy to see his enthusiasm and desire to take ACU to heights it has never seen before. Already in his first week on the job, he announced that ACU athletics had signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with Peak Sports Management. The partnership is expected to help ACU improve on corporate sponsorships, expand its market presence and provide additional staffing.
Big things are brewing for ACU athletics, and it all started with a boy watching a classic underdog movie.
“At Notre Dame, I learned that you are always selling something, and I want to take that mindset and use it to promote ACU,” De Leon said. “People want to buy into something that’s exciting and something that’s great. And to do that, you have to tell a great story. My job here is to take the uniqueness of ACU and sell it and market it in a compelling and convicting fashion to get people to buy into what we’re doing here.”