"My only priority five years ago would have been playing somewhere," Leffew, an all-state player at Boyle County, said. "Now I tell my coaches that my grades are first and football is second, something I didn't think would ever happen with me. If you make your grades, then everything else will work out. If the grades are bad, then you don't play.
"You have to make those grades to play and those grades are what will take you farther in life than anything else. You don't know if you will get to the next level (National Football League) or not. You've got to do what you can to prepare for the future."
He also spent doing what he could to "prepare" for his first season under new coach Bob Petrino this summer. The Cardinals open the season Aug. 31 at Kentucky in Petrino's debut.
Leffew likes what he's seen from Petrino, the former Auburn offensive coordinator who came to Louisville when John L. Smith left for Michigan State, and his staff.
"They have really come in and surprised me," Leffew said. "They have changed things around, actually putting discipline on the team which we were lacking last year. He made a point during (spring) practice that things would be run right. These new coaches let you know if you do something wrong. They want things done right all the time.
"He wants you disciplined in practice. That way you should be disciplined in games. He doesn't allow fighting in practice. There's no holding. He wants it done right."
Leffew spent the summer trying to get back in playing shape. He missed six games last year because of injuries. It was an all too familiar feeling considering he missed what was scheduled to be his final season at Boyle in 1998 because of an injury before he was granted an extra year of high school eligibility.
"I'm trying to get to where I can enjoy football again instead of being injured all the time," Leffew said. "When things go bad, it just happens. Hopefully, I've got all the injuries out of my system. But I've got to stay aggressive. If you get cautious, you will get hurt for sure."
The new Louisville staff hopes to use Leffew more at defensive end, a spot he played occasionally last season when he was not at tackle.
Leffew weighs 290 pounds, a weight he's maintained for a year, and has not lost any speed. That's why Petrino's staff feels he can play outside more this year to help anchor the defensive line.
Leffew says last year he tried to match tackles with end Dwayne White, a NFL draft choice in April. He finished the year with 38 tackles.
"This year I just want to make my own goals and do the best I can," Leffew said. "This is a big year for our team. We have to show we are improving from last year.
"Everybody said last year we could be one of the top teams in the country and then we lost our first game (to Kentucky). We didn't have the winning discipline after that. It just wasn't there the rest of the year. This year we are going to get that spirit back in us."
That spirit might be what has helped Leffew become an exceptional athlete, one who has not only gotten bigger and faster in college, but also has improved his grades.
"I am extremely surprised by the way things have turned out, especially with my grades," Leffew said. "That's the biggest improvement I've had. Football is going to come and go. You can always look back at those grades and hang a diploma on the wall. As much as I want to do well in football, I want to do even better in the classroom."