There’s a new look to the Leo Lions’ football schedule in the first year of an experimental Chicago Catholic League-East Suburban Catholic League merger. But the change doesn’t make for an easier ride: Nazareth, Notre Dame, St. Patrick and Marian Catholic join CCL holdovers Fenwick, DePaul Prep and St. Joe’s as Leo opponents in 2019.

As is often the case for the Lions, line play and the development of a talented group of young players will be determining factors in this season’s success.

Although versatile two-year starter Jalen Harris graduated, the running game should remain strong with senior Tobias Sample and junior Jalen Jones returning—Sample was No. 1 and Jones No. 3 in rushing yards for the Lions last season. The emergence of Raiyon Davidson, a speedy sophomore, will enable Sample to see some time at wide receiver, where replacements are needed for Darryl Ousley-Parr and Do’ron Gee. Returnees Dorion Owens, Daniel Gee and Martin Pumphrey should give the Lions solid line play on both sides of the ball.

Coach Mike Holmes took a gamble last year and found playing time for James E’Akels at quarterback. Despite the occasional freshman mistake, the strong-armed young man showed real promise, and he’ll be the starter from Day 1 this season.

“The thing about James is he really wants to be good, and he’ll put in the work to make it happen,” Holmes said.

The Lions will play three of their four home games at St. Rita’s Cronin Field (78th and Western) and the fourth at the Kroc Center (119th and Loomis). Homecoming is Friday, Oct. 4 against St. Joe’s.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Holmes said. “If our young guys build on the experience they gained last year, we have a chance to be a good team.”

To see the 2019 football schedule: