Leahy is safety net for Centre’s defense

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“Just to be able to go out and put on the pads one more day, it’s just a blessing, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to do it right now,” Centre safety Ben Leahy said.
Centre athletics photo

Productive offenses start behind the offensive line. And even the most productive offense can be stopped short in front of a standout safety.

At Centre, the Colonels started the season with conference championship aspirations and a young offensive line. None of the linemen were starters last season, so Centre (3-1) coach Andy Frye needed to be able to rely a bit on his defense, with its strong front and secondary, while the offense found traction. Senior safety Ben Leahy stepped in to lead that defense. 

The 22-year old captain from Cincinnati is averaging 12 tackles a game for Centre, which started the season on a run of three consecutive wins before falling at Washington University (2-2) on Saturday.

“I’m thrilled for him,” Frye said. “I mean, he’s making plays now and I’m happy -- that’s what our safeties have to do, our defense is predicated on the safeties being able to do a few things, not just one thing.” 

Already, Frye says, the Colonels have had a little bit of everything thrown at them. They’ve matched up with a couple of pass-happy spread offenses, the run-focused option offense of Washington and Lee, and a more traditional grinding ground game from Washington University.

Leahy has handled the changes. Of his team-high 48 tackles, 35 are solo efforts. He’s picked off a pass, and his 2.5 tackles for loss trail only defensive lineman Nick Dietz’s 3.5.

“I think it’s just good that we’re seeing a variety of different things,” Leahy said. “And that we’re able to play with a variety of different things is giving us a lot of confidence as a defense.” 

That adaptability has been important for Leahy, who arrived at Centre as a freshman with his twin brother as his roommate and teammate. After their freshman year, Ryan Leahy elected to give up football and transfer to Miami (Ohio).

“It was tough,” Ben said. “I mean, it was tough, I guess there’s no way around it. But at the same time it was a good move for him, so I was happy he made that choice for himself.” 
Ben says his father still talks about one precious fall when all three boys, the twins and their older brother, Danny, played in the same Monroe High School secondary. Ben, as a high school sophomore, was the safety, flanked by his brothers at each corner. 

But while his brothers moved on, Ben has clung to football, frankly admitting he isn’t prepared to even think about a fast-approaching future without it. Football provides a few hours a day of practice or play when he can focus on the simple objective of playing a game.

Which isn’t to say he isn’t planning. He’s carrying a 3.4 GPA in biochemistry and molecular biology, he’s taken the Medical College Admission Test, and he’s applying to medical schools. He’s interested in anesthesiology, but he’s also interested in cancer care and spent last summer working at a Danville, Ky., oncology clinic where one of his teammates had interned.
Something about the teamwork at the clinic caught his attention. 

“People think of a cancer clinic and you might think it’s a very -- I don’t want to say ‘down’ place, but cancer … it just has such a bad sense to the word once you hear it,” he said. “But when I went there, everybody was just so encouraging and the patients had such great outlooks and the doctors, they were just always so positive with the patients. Regardless of the diagnosis, they always remained very encouraging and everybody was always just so, just so positive.”

Even as he shadowed doctors and nurses, encouraged by the work being done and the attitude toward treatment, Ben says he was reminded more than ever how fortunate he has to have, not just one more season of football, but every game, every practice.

“Just to be able to go out and put on the pads one more day, it’s just a blessing, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to do it right now,” Leahy said. “It’s been part of my life for so long and especially after this summer, it’s -- we’re lucky. We’re very lucky and I’m definitely enjoying every day doing it.”

But, like most football-playing seniors across the country this fall, Leahy’s time in pads is rapidly drawing to a close. The first cool nights of fall feel like football weather, but the shortened days bring a sense of the season rushing to its conclusion. 

For Centre, the good news at this point in the season is that the offense is clicking. Quarterback Heath Haden is averaging 322 yards per game passing. Running back Harry Meisner is averaging over 93 yards a game on the ground. After the loss to Washington University, the Colonels have a bye week before beginning a run of six straight conference games with a trip to winless first-year program Berry.

The end of an undefeated run to Washington University, which entered the game with only one win, may have been disappointing, but it serves as a benchmark for a Centre team with post-season aspirations. The Bears’ two losses came on the road to a pair of undefeated teams: No. 12 UW-Whitewater (3-0) and No. 20 Coe (3-0).

And, of course, Leahy -- getting the Colonels lined up, reading the offense, adjusting the coverage -- playing a position only a little more glamorous than those young offensive linemen.

“Defense has just always been my passion,” he said. “I’d rather go out and make hits or try to make tackles than score touchdowns.” 

-- Following its bye week, Millsaps is the only undefeated team remaining in the SAA.
The Majors (3-0, 0-0) open conference play this weekend against Hendrix (2-1, 0-1).
Hendrix defeated Southwestern on Saturday in a contest of first-year programs, 48-29. Dayton Winn led the Warriors ground game, rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Seth Peters had 11 carries for 108 yards and a score.

Seth Peters was 22 of 32 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Casey Caton grabbed two of those scoring throws, finishing with three catches for 84 yards. 

-- Centre fell, 31-14, at Washington University in the first meeting between the two teams since 1984. 

Heath Haden rushed 13-yards for the only touchdown of the first quarter to put the Colonels on the board first, but it was Centre’s only lead of the game. Haden passed for 298 yards in the loss. Ricky Adams had 103 yards receiving. 

The Bears (2-2) held a 40:05–19:55 advantage on time of possession.

The Colonels (3-1, 0-0) have a bye week to regroup before beginning conference play at Berry (0-3, 0-1) on October 12.

-- Birmingham-Southern was routed at home by No. 11 Wesley, 46-12.

The Wolverines took a 37-0 lead in the first quarter, hammering Birmingham-Southern with scoring defense. Wesley (3-1) scored on a pair of fumble returns, an interception returned for a touchdown, and a safety.  Combined with a rushing touchdown and one through the air, the defensive onslaught was too much for the Panthers. 

Birmingham-Southern (3-1, 1-0) resumes conference play this week with a trip to Sewanee (1-3, 0-0).

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference

-- Texas Lutheran remains 2-0 after its nonconference homecoming against NAIA-member Southwestern Assemblies of God was canceled.

Quarterback Brent Peavy passed for two touchdowns as the Bulldogs took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, but the game was halted less than a minute into the second quarter and canceled after a three hour delay for lightening.

Texas Lutheran travels to East Texas Baptist University (2-1) for a nonconference game this week. 

-- Trinity (Texas) travels to Mary Hardin-Baylor this week for a nonconference game. 

The Tigers stymied Austin (0-4, 0-0) on the road Saturday, winning 26-3. 

American Southwest Conference

 -- Mary Hardin-Baylor is rolling through the first part of its season and opened conference play in typically dominating fashion Saturday. 

The undefeated Crusaders are coming off a 40-18 win over Sul Ross State (0-4, 0-1). Mary Hardin-Baylor (4-0, 1-0) has outscored its first four opponents 140-45 and hasn’t allowed first quarter points since Redlands’ Kevin Grady kicked a 21-yard field goal to open scoring in the season opener on Sept. 7.

For three minutes, 27 seconds between that field goal and Malcom Miller’s 1-yard touchdown for the Crusaders, Mary-Hardin Baylor trailed.  That remains the only time this season that the Crusaders have been down on the scoreboard.

-- East Texas Baptist University suffered its first loss of the season Saturday against Willamette, 45-25. 

The Tigers (2-1) took a 6-0 lead on a 43-yard Josh Warbington pass to Tyler Bates, but the PAT was blocked and Willamette (3-0) scored 31 points unanswered.

Toi Glover rushed for 187 yards on 37 carries in the nonconference loss. Warbington was 12 of 27 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Tigers fumbled six times Saturday, losing three, and were sacked seven times for 20 yards.

-- Conference action heats up this Saturday as Louisiana College (2-1, 0-0) takes on Howard Payne (2-1, 0-0) and Hardin-Simmons (1-2, 0-0) goes to Mississippi College (0-3, 0-0).

Louisiana College, Howard Payne and Hardin-Simmons are all coming off a bye week. Mississippi College fell at Webber International, 35-7.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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