NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – Niles is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2007, but the Zack Leonard era has ended for the Red Dragons, as they will look to a senior to lead the offense in 2021.
“We are not going to be able to replace Zack,” said head coach Jim Parry. “We know that, but we just want Andrew to be himself, and we think we have a lot of good pieces around him.”
The term big shoes to fill might be an understatement when talking about Leonard’s legacy at Niles. He holds three school records for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total touchdowns.
Now the keys to the offense go to senior Andrew Huffman, who was right behind Leonard every step of the way.
“Andrew Huffman has been a kid who has been behind him for three years, and we have seen him blossom as a leader since Zack has been gone,” Parry said. “With Zack out of the way, I think he feels he can be himself more.”
“Man, I learned a lot from Zack,” Huffman said. “He is one of the best to come out of Niles. He taught me how to read the defenses, be the leader. I think it has gone really good, I am really excited for this year, and I think I am ready for it.”
Helping to ease the burden on Huffman will be a tough, experienced offensive line led by junior Matt Keely. He was a first-team all-league selection last year and will be joined by senior Brad Isabella.
Along with sophomore running back Antuan Gardner who racked up over 600 yards on the ground on only 124 carries as just a freshman.
“That is the key right, we want to run the football and when we do throw it, let him worry about throwing it and not a pass rush,” Parry said. “Quite frankly that is the key to our season, if our guys up front go well, I think our season will go well.”
“We just have to try our best, move people out of the way, get us to where we need to be,” Keely said.
“We have grown up together. We are like family, so he just knows that we have his back and if he makes a mistake, go to the next play,” Isabella said.
Niles opens the season against rival Howland Week 1.