It’s a new era of football at Leo.
Jared Sauder, the program’s all-time leader in wins and winning percentage, is now in administration. Under his tutelage, the Lions are on a run of 15-straight winning campaigns.
Enter Jason Doerffler, who takes over after nine years at Northrop that did not see a single winning season over that time.
But the coaching challenges at Northrop and Leo are like night and day, meaning Doerffler has a reset of sorts in which to mold his program with a lot more in terms of support and assets.
That includes a vastly different offensive approach. While Leo teams under Coach Sauder were known to pack it in and run the ball (last year over 90 percent of offensive snaps), Doerffler has implemented a more balanced attack.
Leading the new scheme behind center will be junior Kylar Decker, a multi-sport athlete that has displayed his arm on the baseball diamond. He replaces Jackson Barbour, who threw just 36 times all of last season, but completed 61 percent of his passes and threw six touchdowns.
The Lions graduated its top two rushers, but do-everything senior Ethan Crawford (47 carries, 488 yards, nine TDs) is back and will see action behind center and also at wide receiver. Senior Max Loeffler will also be in the mix.
Speaking of wideout, this group will see more action than in years past. The leading receiver in 2021 had all of seven catches – the graduated Mason Sheron.
The lone player back that had a receiving score last year is sophomore Brock Schott. The tight end is playing both inside and out in Leo’s scheme and is a matchup nightmare.
Junior Kam Zeisloft and senior Jake Patton are also players to know at wideout, as well as junior Aiden Furnish at tight end. Patton also looks as if he will handle kicking and punting duties once again.
Landen Livingston, DJ Allen and Sam Htoo, all First Team All-NE8 honorees, are gone up front. Replacing that trio will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, but the Lions do have a cornerstone at O-line in senior Truman Wirtz. He and classmate Collin Butler will be looked upon to bring along some new faces in the trenches, which includes junior Riley Stewart.
A pair of juniors – Brett Fuller and Taz Lantz – will see playing time at both running back and linebacker.
Speaking of the defense, it is in better shape in terms of veterans. Leading tackler Alex Holcomb (75 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 INT) returns, as does fellow linebacker Drew Baker (51 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT) and the aforementioned Crawford (48 tackles, 4 TFL). Together, the trio represent one of the best linebacker units in the entire area.
Up front, bother Butler and Wirtz will see time at the point of attack on defense, as well junior Lucas Sheron. Furnish could emerge as a top D-end threat as well.
The secondary loses Rylan Crawford and his four picks, but Zeisloft can hold his own in coverage while Ryan Horning, Loeffler and Patton look to step into bigger roles.
An intriguing player will be sophomore Landin Hoeppner, who will see action in the secondary and is a quarterback in the event that Doerffler wants to dabble in some different sets for QB2.
Leo was a perennial contender in the Northeast Eight under Coach Sauder, and there is nothing to make us believe that won’t the case under Coach Doerffler.
The lower levels of Leo football, down to the youth program, has been a pillar of consistency and dominance for quite some time. Fans now want to see that up at the varsity level, namely in terms of postseason titles.
The Lions are going on an 11-year drought since the team’s last sectional crown. League titles are well and good, but the potential is there for more.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The change in scheme may be a breath of fresh air to some, but does Leo have the personnel to succeed in the offensive setup? Leo was extremely effective under Coach Sauder in its offensive attack because it was practiced and run throughout the program, years of experience before most even sniffed a varsity snap.
But now, everyone is a newbie. From senior to freshman, all are learning something new. There could be growing pains, particularly with a roster that lost seven players that are now playing college football in some capacity.
Week 3 vs. Norwell
No matter what happens the first two weeks against Kokomo and Angola, the league opener against the squad many consider the title favorite will be big.
Leo has won 18 straight regular-season games against conference opponents and has knocked off the Knights seven-consecutive times, including a 34-point drubbing in 2021.
There is where it gets real for Coach Doerffler. Can Leo show that it isn’t going anywhere in the yearly NE8 race? Can it vault itself back up atop the league once again in Game 1 of the league slate and show it will contend for a third-straight conference title?
Ethan Crawford, senior
As one of Leo’s top returning ball carriers and defenders, Crawford will be a pivotal part of the 2022 campaign as the program looks to continue its run of success.
Crawford is a natural leader who teammates gravitate towards, something that will magnified as most of this team’s leaders from last season are gone.
The senior is also athletic enough to excel immediately in the new offense and really prove that Leo has the personnel needed to run Coach Doerffler’s style of play.