Prep football preseason countdown: #4 LEO LIONS

OUTLOOK

Leo’s youth the last few years has been one of the factors that have slowed the Lions down in the postseason. They appear to have come of age now.

Leo lost some big names to graduation but returns playmakers on both sides of the ball, experience and a sense that it’s time to turn regular-season success into something more.

“This summer has been a little different in that we haven’t done a whole lot of football-related stuff,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “We made it a focus on getting in the weight room and improving in the weight room.”

In other words, Leo hopes to combine additional strength with their experience. The Lions are coming off a Northeast 8 Conference tri-championship with East Noble and New Haven. Leo’s only Class 4A sectional title came in 2011, a year in which they advanced to the semistate.

OFFENSE

Senior AJ Restivo returns as one of, if not the, most experienced quarterbacks in the Fort Wayne area. He has the ability to run and throw, of course, but also brings a sense of understanding of the game that only comes with significant playing time. Restivo completed 107 of 192 passes for 1,685 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

“With all the learning experiences he’s gone through, he’s a valuable asset to our team,” Sauder said.

Also returning is senior running back Alex Wertman, an All-NE8 first-team performer who knows how to read and hit the holes made by the Lions’ talented offensive line. He rushed for 778 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Back for another season on the line are senior Kyle Miazga, junior Tom Busch and senior Arland Coolman.

The graduation losses of Jason Gause, Trenton Bonner and Colton Grahovac means Restivo will need to find some new receivers. Two candidates would be 6-foot-3 junior Cameron Livingston and 5-10 junior Peyton Wall.

“The young kids can be good, but they’re unproven,” Sauder said. “We have to find kids who can make the plays.”

DEFENSE

The big men up front will be the start of everything on the defensive side.

“We’re really excited about our defensive line,” Sauder said. “We have all our starters back, anchored by Jayden Elwood, an all-conference defensive tackle. Gavin Hieber, Kyle Miazga, Christian Hoeppner all have experience playing defensive line for us.”

All four of defensive front players are seniors.

GT Baker, a junior, is back from last season and is a “really good linebacker,” Sauder said.

Wall will also be an expected standout at linebacker, and Livingston at defensive back. Like the receivers corps, Leo’s secondary is in need of backup players stepping into the role of starters this fall.

Another player whose shoes will be tough to fill will be kicker Ben Von Gunten, a 1st-team All-NE8 player. Sophomore Carson McCauley could end up taking on those duties.

ABOUT THE LIONS

2017 record: 7-3

2017 storyline: NE8 tri-champion with New Haven and East Noble; 12 straight winning seasons

Coach: Jared Sauder (101-33 in 13th season)

KEY LOSSES

Jason Gause, DB/WR (1st team All-NE8)

Ty Castillon, LB (1st team All-NE8)

Trenton Bonner, WR (1st team All-NE8)

Colton Grahovac, WR (1st team All-NE8)

Isaak Berghoff, T (1st team All-NE8)

Max Minich, DE (1st team All-NE8)

Ben Von Gunten, K (1st team All-NE8)

THE COUNTDOWN

#5 Carroll Chargers

#6 New Haven Bulldogs

#7 Bishop Luers Knights

#8 East Noble Knights

#9 Wayne Generals

#10 Concordia Lutheran Cadets

#11 Adams Central Flying Jets

#12 Angola Hornets

#13 South Adams Starfires

#14 Woodlan Warriors

#15 Northrop Bruins

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