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A star is born in Leo

Quarterback Leiter makes most of chance

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Leo quarterback Ryan Leiter, a 2010 All-ACAC second-team pick, has thrown for a school-record 3,380 yards and 49 touchdowns in two seasons

LEO-CEDARVILLE – Ryan Leiter’s apprenticeship was cut short a year ago when he unexpectedly stepped in as a starting quarterback for Leo. It has worked out even better than most could have expected as the senior is now a record-setter and leader of an undefeated team.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Leiter showed potential and talent as the quarterback for the junior varsity program but was lacking varsity experience.

That changed after varsity starting quarterback Andrew Suciu underwent surgery for a baseball injury, forcing him to miss the 2010 football season.

Leiter took over for Suciu as the starter during summer workouts a year ago and led the Lions to the Class 3A semistate.

“The guys believed in me, and it worked out really well,” Leiter said.

“I had never started (varsity) before, and it was a whole new experience for me. I had to learn a lot. The seniors last year took me under their wing and gave me a lot of experience.”

And all the team captain has done in 2011 is guide the No. 4 Lions to an 11-0 record and a 4A sectional championship game tonight at home against perennial postseason power Bishop Dwenger (7-4).

After being thrust into the starting role prematurely, the 2010 All-ACAC second-team quarterback has thrown for a school-record 3,380 yards and 49 touchdown passes in two seasons. He also holds the school record for touchdowns thrown in a single season with 25 last year.

“We were very optimistic about Ryan coming into his junior year,” Leo coach Jared Sauder said. “Suciu did a great job, but Ryan wasn’t too far behind. We knew he threw a good ball and was capable of being a leader.

“He did have a whole summer working in 7-on-7s working as the starter, but that first game experience for him was a learning one. He grew a lot last year.

“And last year in the playoffs is where Ryan really started to mature as a quarterback and as a leader. Connor (Kacsor) and Kyle (Marzec) go down, and he had to fill that void. That was huge for him. That has just continued on through this year.”

Leiter’s development this season can be seen in his numbers:

•Both years he has passed for 1,670 yards, but in four fewer games this year.

•He had 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2010 and has 23 TD passes with only two picks in 2011.

•He has also rushed for 239 yards and four touchdowns this season after 178 yards and four scores a year ago.

Sauder said the biggest improvement for Leiter has come in three areas – running back/receivers alignment, protection calls and reads/progressions.

“Those things have gotten tremendously better throughout the year, but he knows he still has to improve,” Sauder said.

“We are late in the season, but he is still working on those things. His work ethic has gotten him to the point where he is getting better day-by-day.”

Before gaining the starting – and starring – role, Leiter was the JV quarterback with a few moments of mop-up time behind Suciu, who graduated last year.

Last year, the Lions went 12-2 before losing to South Bend St. Joesph’s 27-10 in last year’s 3A semistate, but have moved up to 4A this year.

“We were so close last year, and it was heartbreaking for us,” Leiter said. “We want to get over that hump and make it to state. It’s carried over pretty well because last year’s regional game was tight, and it came down to the last second. That definitely helps beating the defending 3A state champions last year. We played in a lot of bigger games last year than we are playing in this week. It is big, but semistate is big and we have been here before.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Leiter, as well, with the possible return of his favorite target in senior receiver Gage Corner, who has been out a month with a bruised kidney he sustained in practice. Sauder said Corner has practiced this week and will be a game-time decision.

Corner has a school-record 76 catches and 24 touchdowns in his career.