It’s a safe bet Elijah Leonard will be the only 265-pound member of the Duluth East crochet club.
It’s also a safe bet nobody will make fun of the Greyhounds senior running back/defensive lineman when he tries his hand at double- and triple-stitching after the football season.
“When I was younger, I knew how to knit quite well. I would make sweaters and hats,” Leonard said. “It’s more just to relax. It’s pretty chill.”
Leonard spends his time now shedding tacklers with the ease of a tree losing its leaves in a heavy wind.
That’s what it looked like Friday night when the nimble-footed big guy blasted through Proctor’s line on two occasions, once for a 72-yard touchdown as he outran Rails defenders upon reaching the second level, and then on a 60-yard run during which he left would-be-tacklers scattered all over the Ordean Stadium field.
“That last run he had was amazing,” East coach Joe Hietala said. “There was a littered trail of defenders behind him. It was fun to watch.”
Leonard’s teammates sometimes can’t help themselves from watching the Jerome Bettis-like running back they nicknamed the “Bus.”
“When we get to watch it’s a blast,” senior offensive lineman Blake Wiseman said. “Last week against Proctor he broke one 60 yards and I was following him the whole time. He broke at least five tackles, they were sliding off him. They were lying on the ground, some of them embarrassed or maybe some of them hurt. It’s impossible to tackle him.”
Quarterback Caden Edwards isn’t immune, either.
“I usually get caught watching him run and not carrying out my fakes, so I’ve been yelled at a few times for that,” Edwards said. “He’s a runner at heart and is surprisingly fast.”
Leonard has 314 yards rushing on 33 attempts (9.5 yards per carry) to lead the Greyhounds (2-1), who face North Branch on Friday.
He also unofficially leads the Northland in shedding tacklers. With his muscular legs constantly churning, Leonard is a load when running north and south.
“I feel like going at a certain speed with my head down and my weight, it’s very easy to get past almost anything,” he said.
Until recently, Leonard, who owns a 3.9 grade-point average (he received a B in freshman geometry), had been on the radar of Ivy League institutions and he attended a camp at Princeton (N.J.) University last summer.
Now the wannabe orthopedic surgeon is narrowing his choices down to NCAA Division II NSIC schools Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota-Crookston.
The Bulldogs have offered Leonard a scholarship to play on the defensive line, while Crookston has offered for him to play in the backfield.
Leonard hasn’t played defense much this season in order to stay fresh to carry the load on offense. He intends to wait until the end of the season to make a decision on which college to attend and which position to play.
“Both (positions) are very fun,” he said. “On the D-line, just battling that guy and being able to find where the ball is, that’s something that comes naturally and I like doing it.
“On the other side, touching the ball is special and it’s fun to score. I like hitting the holes.”
Wiseman, a 6-4, 280-pounder, often creates those holes for Leonard to run through.
But it’s in practice when Leonard is on defense that Wiseman, who has received scholarship offers from the NSIC’s Minnesota State-Moorhead, Minnesota-Crookston and Southwest Minnesota State, fully appreciates his teammate.
“He’s hard to block, for sure,” Wiseman said. “He has a really mean spin move that I have a hard time blocking.”
Leonard says playing running back started off a joke in the eighth grade when coaches asked the largest player on the team if he wanted to try it.
“I said, ‘I like this and I’m going to keep doing it,’ and I stuck with it. Now I’m playing running back senior year.”
PREP NEWSMAKER: Elijah Leonard
Prep status: Duluth East senior
Sports: Football (former shot putter, future rugby player)
School activities: Executive Board, student forum, ABO Hounds, NHS, Math Club, Crochet Club, Hound Pack
Family: Mother, Jamie; grandmother, Dianna; older brother Iyzaya; younger brothers Trayvon and Nate; younger sisters Tenia and Mela
College plans: Study to become an orthopedic surgeon and play football