LIONS WILL PLAY AT SOLDIER FIELD AUGUST 25

There will be a back-to-the-future element to the Leo Lions’ season-opening football game this year.

Soldier Field will be the setting for Leo’s nonconference opener against Lane Tech of the Chicago Public on Friday, Aug. 25. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Leo-Lane is the finale of the annual Kickoff Classic tripleheader that marks the beginning of the Chicago-area high school football season … and the Lions’ first Soldier Field appearance in 43 years.

Leo was a regular Soldier Field visitor throughout ‘40s, ‘50s and into the ‘60s, making frequent appearances in the Prep Bowl city championship game and the Chicago Catholic League playoffs. But the Lions haven’t played at Soldier Field since the 1974 season, when a Bob Foster-coached Leo team dropped a 24-8 decision to Brother Rice in a Catholic League playoff semifinal.

The Catholic League joined the Illinois High School Association in ‘74 and became eligible for IHSA-sanctioned state playoffs that robbed both the Catholic League playoffs and the Prep Bowl of much of their luster as CCL teams set their eyes on state championships. Mount Carmel, Loyola Academy and Providence Catholic have been particularly successful in that pursuit.

But Leo has been involved in some historic Soldier Field moments over the years, such as the 1937 Prep Bowl against Austin that drew a crowd estimated at 120,000 to the lakefront stadium. The Lions were repeat Prep Bowl champions in 1941-42, beating Tilden both years. Their most recent Prep Bowl appearance also produced a victory, 12-0 over neighborhood rival Calumet in 1956.

“What a great opportunity for our young men to play on a field where so much history has been made,” said Leo coach Michael Holmes, a junior starter for the Lions at tight end and defensive end in their last Soldier Field appearance. “We’ve been working hard to raise Leo’s profile, and being invited to play at Soldier Field is an indication that those efforts are paying off.”

Members of the ‘74 team will be recognized in a pregame ceremony. Holmes remembers Dave Niedispial as a strong-armed quarterback, Curtis Cooper and Mike Arrigoni as hard-running tailbacks and Mike Marx, Mike Sipowicz, Dennis Barista and Larry Lynch as hole-opening linemen for the Lions.

As for the 2017 Lions, Holmes is entrusting the offense to quarterback Darryl Ousley-Parr, a junior who steps in for graduated senior Aamir Holmes, a three-year starter who will play at the University of Kentucky. Ousley-Parr is not a big-armed flinger in the Holmes mold, but he is a quick, elusive runner who played well as a fill-in when Holmes was injured last season.

Seniors Keshaun Douglas and Dejohn Harris are two capable targets for Ousley-Parr’s passes, and senior Antoine Wheeler enters the season as the No. 1 running back, with senior Stephon Howard also in line for some carries.

On defense, the Lions’ strength will be up front, with linemen Gabril Spurrill and Gregory Coleman playing in front of linebackers John Harris, Cassius Kurns and Jalen Harris.

“It’s about time we returned to the playoffs,” Holmes said. “If things fall into place for us, we can.”