The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many fall high school sports teams across the country into unexpected and difficult situations. Leon County school system football teams were not allowed to train until 9/11 and would start playing two weeks later. Everyone struggled to adjust, but Leon High School was hit hard.
Upon their return to the field in mid-September, the Lions were forced to close their doors after a positive case of COVID-19 was reported under the program. Back on the pitch, losing a week, Leon was in the pads for the first time and had just five days to prepare before his first game of the season against Godby. The rushed start was not in the Lions’ favor as they would fall to the Chargers, 22-3 in that opener, and go 1-4 on the year.
“It was really about surviving last season,” said Lions head coach Garrett Jahn. “It was very interesting not having a camp or a preseason. We had new coaches, young people and we never really got to level up, offensively, like we could in a normal year. . “
Jahn said the coaching staff were working on adding the new offense before everything was stopped, which ultimately led to some difficulty getting it started. The silver lining for the Lions was that they relied on a defense that was able to keep them competitive during most games. Leon averaged 59 tackles, two sacks and one interception per game.
The defense advantage would see the Lions clinch a victory over Florida A&M DRS, 20-16, and face state runner-up Rickards, falling to the Raiders, 16-12. Even in the spring games, facing Rickards and Wakulla, Leon always saw his defense hold up. Apart from a few tweaks, the Lions think their defense is still a strength.
“There’s still a lot to see for our defense early on,” said Jahn. “In the spring we were pretty well beaten by Rickards at halftime, but the only thing I think we did wrong in defense was that we gave their quarterback plenty of time to pitch. My goal is to get our guys up front to get the pressure off the quarterback, and if we do that we’ll be fine. We also fought Wakulla really well in the second half, and they have guns on them. attack. ”
Now focused on building muscle in defense, Leon’s next step is to build offense with the veterans they have. One of his key players over the past three seasons has been senior kicker Jack Brooks, who found ways to get points on the board when the Lions couldn’t find the end zone and supported the opposition as far as his coaches needed him. at.
Brooks was perfect in the points afterwards and has scored 70 percent of field goals, going 5-7 this year, including a shot from 44 yards. On the defensive end, Brooks averaged 42 yards per punt and totaled 71 yards throughout the season. While he had a lot of work last season on both sides, as Leon has only scored four touchdowns in the years and Brooks would record 36 punts over the season, he said he didn’t feel under. pressure.
His freshman efforts caught the attention of recruiters from a handful of Power 5 programs, including Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, and Mississippi State.
“This is what I train for,” said Brooks. “A quarterback trains to throw touchdowns and kickers to score goals on the field. It’s nothing I’m not ready for. My job is to help my team every time I’m called up. whether it’s a punt, a kick-off or a kick on a goal pitch. We’ve said it so many times and it really doesn’t sound like anything. The pressure is on people who are unprepared and we are more than prepared. ”
Brooks has kept the special teams united, a bridge between offense and defense, but the Lions are considering a few more players to revive their offense. Rising junior Centel Deshazier, who was the Lions’ top forward last season, is a player Leon is looking to pull out this fall. While currently undergoing treatment for a knee injury, Leon saw some promising things from Deshazier in the fall and more recently in the spring. Deshazier led Leon in rushing yards last season with 186 of 74 carries and a team-high 37 yards per game.
“Centel had to have knee surgery just before spring but from what I saw in his sophomore year I predict he will be a spark in this running match,” Jahn said. . “Hepburn, who is another great running back, broke his wrist in the first game of the spring game, so we saw what he could do against our guys in practice, but we didn’t. haven’t seen in the spring. I think I have some good running backs, who will stimulate us. “
In the backfield, Leon works with two quarterbacks, coming from last season’s varsity team, who they say have a lot to add to the roster. Up-and-coming junior Ikezha Freeman, who just finished a 3-0 season with Leon’s JV team as a quarterback, is someone the Lions have been focused on developing and who they believe a lot.
By having a summer camp and generally more time to train and develop, Leon takes advantage of bringing everyone on the JV roster up to college speed, and hopes their success last season will translate into . Leon JV dominated his opposition 66-13, beating Chiles, Godby and Lincoln.
“We’re getting there with the adjustment to college,” Jahn said. “The playbook is growing a bit, the decision making is speeding up, and just like JV’s move from college to college, the game is speeding up. The good thing is that he works hard. for all of those things, and I know he can physically do them. With Freeman, we’re focusing more on the mental side of the game and keeping it up to date. ”
By having a more open offseason and being able to do more, players and coaches are enjoying the flexibility compared to last season. Brooks said last season everything seemed hectic, while this summer there is more pace and more training time has boosted the team’s confidence.
“Anytime you can feel more comfortable on offense or defense, and for me more comfortable with the grip and the snap, you will be more confident,” said Brooks. “Playing with more confidence will put a better product on the pitch.”
Leon knows that with more time to train and practice they will be a different team, but he also knows that everyone in the county is in the same advantage.
“Heading into the summer, now that we’ve got a good turnout and the guys aren’t hitting or making excuses when they’re working, do one thing for me as a head coach,” Jahn said. “I have a team that is never going to give up and they are going to fight until the end, which is kind of all you can ask for.”