The last Leo postseason win came in 2011, which seems like forever in a world where the Lions have consistently been one of the top programs in the area over the last decade. Coach Jason Doerffler became a head coach at Northrop three years after that last title win and he doesn’t have any of his own either.
So why the big optimism about Leo heading into this season? Part of it is the fact that the marriage of Doerffler and the Lions last year seems to be working out gangbusters for all involved. He posted his own career-best mark a year ago at 8-4 while still working out the kinks of developing his own system in a well-established program.
It helps that he has one of the best rosters of playmakers in the area.
Kylar Decker is back after throwing for almost 1,300 yards last season and as Leo emphasizes a focus on passing a bit more, Decker has a great core of receivers to make his job significantly easier as a senior. Kamden Zeisloft (385 yards, 4 touchdowns), Jaxon Keller and Landin Hoeppner all return, but the alphas of the group could be North Side transfer Kaden Hurst and junior tight end Brock Schott. Hurst is an Ohio commit who broke out last year and Schott is a 468-yard receiver with high Division I looks that is an intimidating presence. Connor Arnold will help add depth to the receiving group.
Out of the backfield will come a new group for the most part. Despite not being a starter in the backfield before, Brett Fuller has contributed each of the last two seasons, including running for 548 yards on 77 carries last season. Aidan Monds, Anthony Nicklow and De’arious Carter will join him. Protecting those guys and creating space for them will be an offensive line that returns starters Riley Stewart, Jacob Oltman and Eli Jacobs.
Defensively, the Lions are with seven returners, many of whom will also contribute on the offensive end. Schott (52.5 tackles, 12 sacks), Lucas Sheron and Tristan Roberts (17.5 tackles) all return along the defensive line, with Aiden Furnish (42 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and Monds back to lead the linebacker group. Zeisloft (51 tackles, 6 INT) and Hoeppner (31.5 tackles, 2 INT) will return to lead the secondary.
Interestingly, Schott is as good of an edge player on defense as he is a tight end on the offensive side.
As for new faces to look out for, watch for Taz Lantz to be a bigger contributor at linebacker, as could Jared Jasper and Drew Sauder. Elijah Reynolds, Alijeh Lindsey, Keadan Hulbert and Kellan Hulburt. could all contribute in the defensive backfield. Just a sophomore, Kellan Hulburt could also see some time helping on offense.
Dionysious Benge could be a face (and name) to look out for on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Stewart will again handle the kicking duties, where he was 16 of 19 in PATs last season.
Leo has depth. Leo has athletes. Leo has big front lines that hit hard. What else can you really ask for if you are the Lions ?
Coach Doerffler’s team has the tools to really make an impact in the regular season in what should once again be a fun NE8, but they also have what it takes (on paper) to earn some hardware in the postseason and end the playoff drought.
If you read above, you know that the amount of playmakers that Leo has is a luxury that few, if any teams in the area have.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The transition to Doerffler’s leadership and the expansion of the passing attack has been pretty seamless. However, this is still a team that’s going to rely on the run game a ton.
It’s time to put up or shut up regarding the Lions. They have 39 victories over the last four years, but just two league titles and zero postseason trophies of any kind.
At some point, it becomes difficult to buy into the hype when seasons continue to end in disappointing fashion.
Perhaps this year’s team can be different.
September 15 at East Noble
Once upon a time really not that long ago, this was the marquee matchup in the Northeast Eight. And here we are again with this one very possibly being for the conference title.
Leo and East Noble should have the kinks of the early season worked out by Week 5, so there should be little to no excuse for either team in this one. If it lives up to the preseason hype, it will be a real back and forth affair with both teams capable of big plays.
Leo has a lot to handle before this with both Norwell and New Haven in the two weeks prior, but if it makes it to September 15 unbeaten in the NE8, this game will be huge (if East Noble also handles its business).
Aiden Furnish, senior, linebacker
At times last fall, Furnish was a physically dominant foe against any offense in the area. He has a build that allows him to attack hard on the edge, looking increasingly better from the weak side. He also has a lot of speed in his bag, making him possibly Leo’s most impactful defender.
Bottom line, Furnish can change the tempo of games quickly with a single hit.