Underclassmen set for bigger roles with Leechburg football team
As Leechburg struggled toward a 1-9 finish last year, two underclassmen who seized the opportunity for playing time are ready to make their mark as the program tries to improve.
Jake Blumer received considerable playing time in the Blue Devils backfield, rushing for 353 yards on 76 attempts and two touchdowns as a freshman.
Bret Kardos, this year's starting quarterback, threw only four times as J.B. Burtick got the lion's share of Blue Devils snaps. Kardos, however, carried the ball 35 times for 96 yards and caught nine passes for 75 yards during his sophomore season.
It's not easy debuting as a ninth-grader in the Eastern Conference, one of the state's toughest.
“At first, I was a little nervous because it was my first time playing against much bigger kids,” Blumer said. “But since I have all my teammates behind my back, watching me, cheering me on throughout the year, I got more confidence, and it got easier.”
The highlight of Blumer's season — Leechburg's, for that matter — was an 18-yard touchdown run late in the game as the Blue Devils defeated Brownsville, 35-34. Brownsville scored a late touchdown but went for the 2-point conversion and were stopped by Leechburg to preserve the win.
Blumer, at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, is ready for a bigger role.
“I'll be the 2-back in the backfield and sometimes a 4-back (slot),” he said. “Mainly on defense, I'll be an outside linebacker. I have to contain and make sure no one goes outside of (me).”
Blumer will have to cover potential receivers on short and long passes in Leechburg's 4-4 defense, which also can turn into a 4-2-5.
“Jake will be a hybrid defender,” coach Mark George said. “He'll go from linebacker to defensive back to an edge rusher.”
Playing with such a small roster, numbers-wise, Blumer knows he and his teammates have to be in good shape since they rarely get a chance to catch their collective breath.
“You have to be in shape,” Blumer said. “Because if you take one play off, that could affect the whole team.”
Quarterback will represent a position change for Kardos (5-10, 190).
“I was a fullback last year,” he said. “It's nothing new for me. I played quarterback through the youth football league.
Leechburg hopes to display a variety of offensive looks over the season.
“It's hard to describe our offense,” Kardos said. “We like to run a lot, passing's in there, too. We have a pistol formation.”
Getting reacclimated to quarterback put extra urgency on Kardos and his teammates over the summer during 7-on-7 drills.
“It's really helps us on our passing formations,” said Kardos. “It gets my receivers and me in a tight fit, so we're all on the same page. They have to learn to be where the ball's going to be.”
Leechburg will start with a Week Zero game Friday against ancient rival Apollo-Ridge, a move that suits Kardos.
“I feel like the (early game) benefits us as a team,” he said. “It'll get us ready for the conference season. Apollo-Ridge is a big rival, and there's always a lot of people there and it'll be a big stage.”
George Guido is a freelance writer.