Monday, July 13, 2015

Leech Leaves Lasting Legacy on GHS Sports

by Paul Thompson

 
When the school year begins anew in August, Andy Leech will assume his new role as the interim assistant principal of Martin City K-8.

The position represents a promotion for the former Grandview High School engineering teacher, so it might be surprising to learn that the move will be somewhat bittersweet for Leech. That’s because after six-plus years as Grandview’s varsity football and boys’ track and field coach, Leech will be stepping down in both capacities. In some ways, he says he’s still getting used to calling himself ‘Mr. Leech.’

"I feel like I need more time to digest. It’s not going to be an easy change losing football," admitted Leech, sitting in the coaches office at Grandview’s athletic fieldhouse. "Don’t get me wrong, I’m really, really excited to be at Martin City. I’m hoping to dive in and just work like crazy, because that’s what I’ll have to do."

The notion of coaching was ingrained into Leech’s mind from a young age. While he has come to love his time coaching the high school’s track and field program – winning five straight state championships certainly helps – he says that football has always been his biggest passion. In fact, Leech claims that his mother still has evidence of his early interest in coaching.

"In second grade, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and then they posted it in the paper," he said. "My mom still has it: ‘Andy Leech, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I had football coach. Not football player, but football coach. My whole life, football has been my number-one love."

Leech would have liked to win more games during his stint as Grandview’s head football coach, but he remains proud of the way he and his staff have been able to send players off to the next level. Several Grandview players have gone on to play Division I college football during his tenure, and the team has had as many as 10 players sign college scholarships in the same season.

"I wish we had done better record-wise, but there’s a lot more to it than just record. It’s really the kids you affect, and watching what they do when they leave the program," said Leech. "That’s the other thing that makes this so hard, is that we’ve got another great group of kids. We’ll probably have 10 kids on signing day again this year."

Of course, Leech has also shepherded a talented group of track and field athletes over the past five years. When invited to a recent C-4 Board of Education meeting to celebrate the track team’s fifth consecutive state championship, superintendent Ralph Teran asked Leech to describe the feeling. Even then, Leech said he had trouble grasping what had happened over the previous five years.

"(Winning) four is unheard of, and there are no words to describe five. It was an amazing effort by all those kids," he said. "It was an amazing run, and it’s not over. I really think they’re going to win it next year. Most of our points are returning, with some great young talent. It could stretch to six or seven pretty easily."

Teaching a group of kids to believe in themselves is often a team effort, and Leech knows that it takes an entire coaching staff to help student-athletes blossom. He mentions the cadre of talented assistant coaches who have helped guide the team’s success, and champions Grandview’s youth track and field programs as a key influence in the team’s long-running success.

"It’s not just me. The staff is all about showing kids their potential," Leech said. "Whether their potential be earning a scholarship, be turning in their assignments and realizing that school matters, or whether their potential is to win state – we’ve had a lot of kids do some amazing things."

While assistant coach Jeremie Picard has been named interim head football coach, no replacement has yet to be announced for the Grandview track and field head coaching job. Leech doubts the district will have much trouble finding a suitable candidate.

"There’s still the track piece, but who wouldn’t want to coach track at Grandview?" said Leech with a laugh. "We’re not going to have any trouble finding someone."

Leech’s appetite for coaching only becomes more apparent as he reminisces about his career. He began as an assistant football coach at Grandview in 1999. But over the years, somehow, he’s added more responsibility to his resume. He picked up a role on the track and field team during his second year teaching, coached middle school and freshman basketball for a handful of years, and continued to move up the coaching ladder. He was named the head track and field coach in 2007, and picked up the football head-coaching duties a couple of years later.

Perhaps his passion is best exemplified by his first year in the Grandview football program. Leech and his wife wed on August 7, 1999. The couple enjoyed just two days of married life before they headed back to Grandview on August 9 so Leech could attend football practice.

"We got up after our wedding day, opened gifts, and then drove to Grandview and got ready for two-a-days the next morning," says Leech. "She has never complained; she’s been fantastic."

Still, after all these years patrolling the sidelines, Leech knew it was time to take a step back, while also taking a step forward. He’s looking forward to facing new trials as an administrator, and he’s excited to join his new teammates at a new school.

"July 15 will be my first day at Martin City," said Leech. "We’ve talked, and I’ve got my list of things to do. It’s extensive, which is good. I’ll dive right in and try to do the best job possible. It’s a new challenge, and that’s really what it’s all about for me."

The new role will also afford Leech more opportunities to keep track of his former players, many of whom are still competing at the college level. His responsibilities to the football program typically consisted of Friday night games followed by early-morning film sessions, so he’s now looking forward to more free Saturdays.

"I didn’t get to nearly as many games as I wanted to when I was coaching. It was always after the season, we’d get two or three weeks," said Leech. Now I’m going to make that trip to Lincoln to see Freedom (Akinmoladun) do his thing, and I’d love to get out to Wyoming to see Ry’one (Winters)."

Having been around so much transcendent talent, Leech will have his hands full if he wants to keep tabs on all his former student-athletes. From national record-holding high jumpers to future NFL quarterbacks, Leech has been around for some impressive moments in Grandview sports history.

"Not too many coaches have seen what I’ve seen over the last 16 years at Grandview High School," said Leech. "A 7’6" high jumper (James White), Romey Reaws winning state and breaking the school record in his last attempt at the pole vault, Dapo (Akinmoladun) running a 13.56 in the 110 meter hurdles at state, Apa (Visinia) pancaking 100 kids in a season, Brandon Kinney and Josh Freeman doing all the things that they did, Maliek and Harvey Kendall; we’ve just had some unbelievable athletes come through. It’s just awesome to be a part of that in any way."

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