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Published: Thursday, 8/28/2003

Eastwood gains from last year's loss

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

PEMBERVILLE - Losing 52-14 to eventual Division IV state football champion Kenton in a regional semifinal last fall turned out to be more than just the worst defeat of the season for Eastwood.

The rout served as an education for the Eagles.

Kenton's wide-open offensive game plan and record-setting quarterback Benjamin Mauk did more than slice and dice the Eagles' defense for 562 passing yards, including five touchdown passes. The memorable meeting with Kenton opened the Eagles' eyes to the possibilities of adopting a similar offensive philosophy.

If Eastwood's 59-20 romp over Fremont St. Joseph to open this season last week is any indication that the Eagles have successfully duplicated Kenton's formidable attack, Eastwood opponents will certainly have their hands full for the rest of the year.

And opposing defensive coordinators may experience their share of migraines trying to defend against an offense that relies on having five wide receivers on the field almost every down.

Nevertheless, East-wood coach Jerry Rutherford says the key to the offense working effectively begins with the quarterback. Eastwood quarterback Kevin Leady, a 6-3, 183-pound junior, plays the role of Mauk in the Eagles' version of Kenton's passing game.

``We went to the shotgun because of [Leady's] ability to run, his speed and his ability to pass,'' Rutherford said. ``So he's a very important part of this offense.''

Mauk passed for a national record 17,224 career yards from 1999 to 2002, including 6,230 yards last season, utilizing an offensive scheme that leaves the quarterback alone in the backfield on the majority of the plays.

Against St. Joseph, Leady threw touchdown passes of 31 and 71 yards, completed 20 of 30 passes for 315 yards and rushed for 95 yards on 12 carries, including touchdown runs of 10, 31 and 11 yards.

It was a Mauk-like performance.

``He had a pretty good game,'' Rutherford said. ``This is what we thought he'd do in this offense. He finished the season strong last year and we thought he could do some things in this offense.''

Leady became the permanent starter for the Eagles in the second week of last season. The Eagles posted a 10-2 overall record, including a 7-0 mark in the Suburban Lakes League to claim the SLL championship outright.

Leady has been playing quarterback since the fourth grade. He understands the position and every other position on offense better than any of his teammates. The most stressful position in football has always been considered a place of complete comfort Leady.

``I've always wanted to be the guy that everyone hunts for and everyone wants to go after,'' Leady said. ``I always like to have the ball in my hands.''

While the plan to revamp Eastwood's offense had its roots in the blowout loss to Kenton, the actual implementation of the offense didn't occur until this summer.

Yet it didn't take the 16-year-old QB much time to grasp the ``five-wide'' approach that asks the quarterback to think quickly playing out of the shotgun. Within a couple of weeks he said he understood the nuances of the offense.

Leady welcomes the new game plan and believes it's a change that could help make Friday nights easier for the Eagles and tougher for opposing defenses.

``We'll go five [receivers] wide and it's really hard to defend against,'' Leady said. ``We can run the football and throw the football, and defensive guys will get tired really early.''

The Eagles' QB is bigger and stronger this season. As a sophomore Leady lacked the arm strength that would make Eagles' opponents concerned about him throwing the football over the top of the defense. He lacked a deep ball.

Off-season workouts with weights and seven-on-seven passing drills over the summer have Leady ready to air it out this season.

``My arm has gotten immensely stronger than last year. I can throw a lot deeper with a lot more pop. There is no throw I can't make this year. Last year, there were throws I couldn't make.''

``Right now, with what we're doing, it's all kind of built around him,'' Rutherford said. ``We think that when he has the ball in his hands he can make some things happen.''

Ultimately, the Eagles hope their Kenton-styled attack will help produce another winning season that includes postseason play. The Eagles would love to duplicate what Kenton did in the playoffs.

``Everyone on the team wants to get back to the playoffs,'' Leady said. ``Running this offense, I don't see why we can't get back.

``It really doesn't matter if I don't have any completions or rushing yards as long as we win. That's the main goal.''



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