By Dean Jackson
For IN|FW Newspapers
LEO-CEDARVILLE — Jared Sauder can’t help but be excited for the 2019 campaign.
With a whopping 18 upperclassmen, Leo is stacked. It’s one of the best crops of seniors he’s seen in a while.
It’s depth, it’s experience, it’s character and it’s a solid record of success dating back to junior high.
You might call this number historic.
“It’s not the biggest class ever. In 2010-11 we had about 22,” Sauder recalled. “In the past six or seven years this is probably the biggest class we had.”
Generally, there’s a connection between number of veterans and number of wins.
It’s true for Leo. That 2010-11 squad is the high-water mark for the program. That’s when the Lions went 12-2 and made it to semi-state.
The extra numbers might be just enough to push the Lions to the Northeast Eight conference title. They settled for second last year and seem stuck on seven wins for the past few years.
If leadership develops it could be a very good year.
“It’s their year,” Sauder said. “We are looking forward to see what they can do it with it”
He’s also pleased with off-season work. He’s seeing players increase their commitment in the weight room, camps and scrimmage games.
There are some needs though.
The most obvious is at quarterback. Gone is three-year starter AJ Restivo. Last season he tallied nearly 1600 yards of total offense. He connected on 90-of-156 passes for more than 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. He added another 389 yards and four touchdowns running.
When camp started Sauder had a clear challenge as senior Cameron Roach and sophomore Jackson Barbour had excellent summers.
Whoever takes the snaps, they’ll have the comfort of a tough, pound it out run game.
Last season Leo pounded out 2,200 yards — an average of 200 a game. That will make the transition smoother even with some spots to shore up.
Their leading rusher, Alex Wertman, graduated. He’s now playing at NAIA Taylor University in Upland. As a senior he carried 201 times for 1,052 yards and 9 touchdowns. Senior tailback Peyton Wall is back and promises lots of offensive punch
He’ll figure prominently in the run and pass attack. As a junior he scored 11 touched downs on 61 carries for 600 yards. He also grabbed 19 passes for 393 yards and three scores. He’ll also figure prominently as a return man. Look for contributions from receivers like Cameron Livingston, Greyson Leroque and Peyton McHale, who also factor in on the receiving core.
Another hole for Sauder is the defensive line. “We lost four really good defensive linemen. We have fill some spots.”
Gone are three-year starters Jayden Elwood and Gavin James. Elwood, as a senior, recorded 67 tackles, including 12 for loss and 7 sacks. James notched 54. Kyle Miazga, who is now at St. Francis, has also departed. He was a challenge for opponents — made 2 sacks, 12 for loss. Arland Coolman had a hand in 56 stops.
“The second and third levels of our defense are pretty solid at linebacker and in the secondary. But, it’s certainly a concern on the defensive line.”
There may be some double-duty for some offensive linemen picking up another role on the defensive line, and he’s optimistic with the underclassmen.
At linebacker, Wall will also factor in the defense scheme. He made 42 tackles last year.
The Lions open up Aug. 23 at Woodlan