Leo High School football banking on experience of quarterback AJ Restivo as season nears

Leo quarterback AJ Restivo is interviewed during high school football media day on Friday at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Leo junior AJ Restivo throws a pass during Friday's game against Angola. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

Leo High School quarterback AJ Restivo plans to lobby for some playing time at linebacker this season.

If he can manage to hit the field on defense, we’ll know his skills of persuasion have caught up with his ability to run and throw.

“I usually keep the quarterbacks to one side (of the ball),” Leo coach Jared Sauder said during media day on Friday at Memorial Coliseum. “It’s to lighten the load, but the whole injury thing, too. I want to make sure they’re protected a little bit.”

Sauder has ample reason to keep Restivo fresh and healthy. A senior, Restivo enters his third season as a starting quarterback, bringing a wealth of experience that would be impossible to replicate on the Lions roster. In fact, Restivo is likely the most experienced quarterback in the Fort Wayne area, where many of the top teams enter 2018 with new or relatively inexperienced quarterbacks.

Restivo will be joined by three returning offensive linemen (Kyle Miazga, Tom Busch and Arland Coolman) and running back Alex Wertman in the offensive lineup.

That’s a foundation Sauder wants to keep intact. The experienced line and the threat of the run with Wertman should help keep Restivo upright and producing.

“AJ knows the offense, he knows what’s going on, and it’s good to have that position where you have a leader, someone who’s been there two years now,” Sauder said. “He’s going into his senior year, ready to take charge and direct things, so we’re excited about that.”

Restivo has the build to be a linebacker. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds. He didn’t take up quarterback until the seventh grade because he was also too heavy to play at the younger levels and ended up playing on the line.

He has a strong arm but also presents a hard-to-bring-down approach to the run game.

Leo tends toward 60/40 with run/pass, Restivo said, and that could be skewed even more considering the team lost three talented receivers to graduation in Trent Bonner, Colton Grahovac and Jason Gause.

There were some nights last season where Restivo turned it loose: He set a school record with 300 yards passing and five touchdowns in a win over Huntington North.

Leo has some young receivers ready to step in, but they’re green, Sauder said.

“AJ can help those receivers out and teach those receivers,” Sauder said. “He’s good at that. …To have Alex and the offensive line back, you know our system anyhow – it’s run-heavy. We’re not throwing the ball 30 times a game. It’s nice to have that experience to get the season started and then build on our passing game as we get into it.”

Among the other Northeast 8 Conference schools, the most experienced quarterbacks are DeKalb’s Kyle Dunham, who has been a varsity contributor for two years, and New Haven’s Tim Jordan, who earned the starting role midway through last season.

Even among the Summit Athletic Conference schools, there aren’t many experienced quarterbacks.

Restivo said he feels like he’s ready to take his play up a notch.

“I’m extremely comfortable with everything, the playbook, the coaches and stuff,” Restivo said. “Being in the lineup with three years’ experience, I know the game better. That’s really helped me out.

“The hardest part personally is leadership and that’s something I have to work on,” he said. “Other than that, it’s about knowing defenses and knowing your whole playbook.”

Leo has had 12 straight winning seasons, all under Sauder, and has compiled a 43-12 record over the last five seasons. However, the Lions haven’t made it out of a tough Class 4A sectional since 2011.

“Our coaches and players feel extremely confident,” Restivo said. “All the players feel like we put a lot of work in this offseason and we should be pretty good.”

Leo hopes the offseason work pays dividends and keeps Restivo from being needed at linebacker.