Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach takes a moment next to Katie Kitty and Larry Lion, two of the "Potty Pals" created by Leach and his wife Julie.
As the years pass by and Mike Leach finds himself in an NFL locker room for another season, the veteran long snapper acknowledges he is cognizant of his age.
"Every once in a while when you stop and you see how young some of the guys in the league are, you think about when I first got in the league they might have been running around in diapers," Leach said. "That's a little eye-opening."
To be clear, that's not how Leach, headed into his 16th season, and his wife Julie came up with their new product to help toilet-train children. A need to find a career post-football wasn't a driving force either, even if the 38-year-old Leach is closer to that point than he used to be.
Instead, the Leaches' Potty Pals was a concept the couple have had for years, ever since searching for a way to help train their daughter and being unable to find a stuffed animal that might help the cause. Their daughter is long past the point of needing help anymore, but more than a year ago the Leaches set into motion a plan to turn their concept into a business.
Julie Leach has an MBA and is the brains behind the daily work, Mike Leach said, but the two also received help from various business-types after taking part in the NFL's Consumer Product Boot Camp. The full product – which includes a stuffed animal, a storybook authored by the Leaches themselves, and a progress sheet with stickers – finally was ready for the world about a month ago (and can be found on pottypals.com and Amazon.)
"We didn't start it as a post-career thing, but if it works and it takes off and it's something I can continue after I'm done playing, even better," Leach said.
When Leach is done is another side to the story. He's heading into his seventh season with the Cardinals, having appeared in 200 straight games. A free agent after 2014, Leach re-signed for 2015. While other players on the roster work on long snapping here and there, there is no natural option for the position other than Leach.
Leach said there is a pride he holds in playing 15 years already, but while he hopes there will be a 16th, he acknowledged being
nervous – and therefore motivated -- about his spot is one of the reasons he has lasted so long.
"You don't have the stress of every day at work looking at the guy next to you competing for your job wondering how he is doing compared to you and watching the tape," Leach said. "But in the back of your mind, when you are a snapper or kicker or punter, you know even if there isn't anyone in camp, there are a lot of guys out there on the street. There might not be someone here every day, but there are guys lurking in the shadows hoping to get a job."
It's difficult to top Leach, said punter Dave Zastudil, who added that the modest Leach has lasted as long as he has for a reason.
"Is he a great community guy, yes," Zastudil said. "Is he a good guy in the locker room? Yes. Is he a leader, yes. Is he smart? Yes. But the biggest thing Mike brings to the table is his consistency. I know exactly where the snap will be on field goals and punts. He's like the quarterback of the line on field goals, but his consistency and staying healthy are what has kept him around."
That's allowed Leach's kids – the Potty Pals inspiration – to grow up enough to sport Leach '82' jerseys at games and for Leach to have football-centric conversations Sunday nights with his 9-year-old son.
Football is still first, and Leach doesn't have to worry too much about Potty Pals supplementing the income. (A portion of the sales will go to benefit Phoenix Children's Hospital, with which the Leaches have had a long relationship with over the years.)
Zastudil, at 36 the second-oldest player on the team, doesn't have to worry about toilet-training his kids anymore either. But he suggested Potty Pals to family, and Leach said his fellow special teamers "get a kick" out of the Potty Pals journey. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro, 24, and punter Drew Butler, 26, even took some pictures with "Larry Lion."
"Some I want to share on social media," Leach said. "A couple I probably shouldn't."
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders shooting video spots for the 2015 season