Football | Leo, Theo thinking big

Leo Catholic High School football  players #3 Theo Hopkins (left) and #15 Latrell Giles (center) with head coach Michael HolmesLeo football players #3 Theo Hopkins (left) and #15 Latrell Giles (center) with head coach Michael Holmes during practice at Dan Ryan Woods on Oct. 10, 2013. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune /October 10, 2013)
By Mike Helfgot, Special to the Tribune

7:56 p.m. CDT, October 10, 2013

 Theo Hopkins carries the ball about seven times per game. On average, he’s good for a first down on each.

His catches go for 15 yards a pop, but he averages only two of those.

If he were at a different school, Hopkins’ ability to turn any given play into a big gain might make him the focal point of the offense.

There may only be 150 boys enrolled at Leo, and 33 on the varsity football team, but several of them are good at staying upright when others are trying to knock them down.

A .500 team the last several years, Leo is 6-0 heading into Saturday’s game against Gordon Tech (2-4) and may well be a state championship contender in Illinois’ lowest (Class 1A) enrollment class.

The Lions, Catholic League powers in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, have sent numerous players to Division I programs and even the NFL since, but they haven’t won more than six games in over 20 years.

“We have a really outstanding senior group,” said coach Michael Holmes, a Leo star in the late ’70s. “They have played against St. Rita, Friendship Academy from Washington D.C, Niles Notre Dame, Brother Rice. And the junior group is a good group of athletes who are contributing to our success.

“This is the first year in a long time I haven’t used any sophomores. That is making a difference.”

Sports take on additional importance at small private schools such as Leo because they can help fill the classrooms.

Leo’s enrollment has declined sharply over the years, though it has stabilized recently. Holmes, also the director of admissions, said the purchase of multiple buses this year should lead to an increase because they will extend the school’s reach.

In addition to tradition-rich athletic programs led by proven coaches, Leo can sell its high college-acceptance rate, which Holmes said is 100 percent over the last five years.

The combination worked on Hopkins, an honor student who finished second in the 100 at a national track meet when he was in eighth grade.

High school coaches were well aware of him.

“All these coaches were like, ‘We want you to come to school here,’ ” Hopkins said. “But they weren’t asking me about school, asking me about my grades like coach Holmes and (track and field ) coach (Edward) Adams were.”

Hopkins already has experienced a state championship.

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior was a member of the 400 relay team that stood atop the podium when Leo won its second consecutive Class 1A track and field championship in 2012.

A three-year varsity starter in football, he has rushed for 354 yards and six touchdowns on better than 10 yards per carry in five games this season.

Those totals would be higher if Leo didn’t have a college prospect, junior Latrell Giles, at quarterback and additional playmakers like running back Mike Conley and receivers Riley McClendon-Gray and Solomon Jones.

Colleges are more interested in his transition from safety to cornerback, which has been smooth. He has three interceptions, and Holmes can’t recall a receiver he was defending catching a pass.

Michigan State visited the school last winter to literally measure him up as a potential corner.

“I’m anxious about college, but I’m keeping it in the back of my mind,” Hopkins said. “That is where we went wrong my sophomore and junior year. We had people saying, ‘I’m going to U of I, I’m going to Northern.’

“They weren’t really focused on the game we had at hand. Of course I think about colleges, but my main focus is Leo High School trying win a state championship.”

Though Holmes preaches the typical one-week-at-a-time approach, Hopkins has allowed himself to look ahead a bit.

Before the state playoffs begin next month, Leo will finish the season against Bishop McNamara, a quality Class 4A team, and defending Class 8A champion Mount Carmel.

“We won the games we won thinking about one game at a time, practicing to beat the team we go against next,” Hopkins said. “But in the back of my mind, of course I think about Bishop McNamara and Mount Carmel. I watch film of them in addition to watching film of the team we’re preparing for.”

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.