Lions Football Schedule

Leo vs. St. Laurence
St. Rita High School
7740 S. Western Ave.
Chicago, Illinois
Kick Off: 1 p.m.

Leo vs. De La Salle
St. Rita High School
7740 S. Western Ave.
Chicago, Illinois
Kick Off: 3 p.m.

at Joliet Catholic
1200 N. Larkin
Joliet, Illinois
Kick Off: 7:30 p.m.

Leo vs. St. Francis
St. Rita High School
7740 S. Western Ave.
Chicago, Illinois
Kick Off: 5 p.m.

at Marian Catholic
700 Ashland Ave.
Chicago Heights, Illinois
Kick Off: 7:30 p.m.

Lions Fall to DePaul

By Dan McGrath

This was almost predictable, Leo’s 38-14 loss to DePaul Prep in a Catholic League Red Division matchup at DePaul Prep on Friday, Sept. 15.

The Lions were playing without injured quarterback Marshawn Durr, who had accounted for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns in Leo’s first three games, two of them victories.

They missed him all right, but sophomore Derrick Davis did  a commendable job filling in. 

 Leo’s defense and its inability to get off the field were a bigger problem as DePaul scored on its first possession, then added four more touchdowns plus a field goal. The Rams (2-2) cruised to a 24-point victory, much to the delight of their Homecoming crowd. 

“Not pleased with the effort or the execution,” Coach Marques Stevenson said after a second straight loss dropped Leo to 2-2. “We’ve got to be better.”

The Lions were in it for most of the first half, using touchdown runs by Davis (16 yards) and junior Javon Logan (8 yards) to stay within 17-14.

But for the second time in four games, Leo fell victim to the same trick play—a hook-and-ladder that covered 43 yards in the final seconds of the first half and gave the Rams a 24-14 lead at the intermission. 

 Titus Bautista was astonishingly open after taking a pitch from Michael Bloom, who’d caught Fernando Rodriguez’s pass on a short out route. The play seemed to demoralize the Lions, who failed to cross midfield in the second half, managing just two first downs and no points.

If the rout wasn’t on after Nick Martinez scored on an eight-yard run to cap the Rams’ first second-half possession, it surely was after Leo failed to cover the ensuing kickoff, enabling Rodriguez to score from a yard out three plays later.  

Rodriguez was a little too nifty for the Lions to contain, completing six of nine passes in the first half alone, for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Two of them went to junior wideout Braden Peevy, the son of DePaul University Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy.

Davis was 7-for-14 for 104 yards with one interception. He also ran six times for 27 yards. Two of his completions, for 50 yards, went to junior wideout Neil Anderson. Logan, competing to the final horn, carried 16 times for 88 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 44 yards.  

Next up for the Lions: St. Laurence, on Saturday, Sept. 23 at St Rita’s Doyle Field. The Vikings are 3-1 after an upset victory over Providence Catholic. The game carries special meaning for Stevenson, who was on St. Laurence’s coaching staff before taking over at Leo.

“We’ll be ready, I guarantee that,” he said. 

Visitors from St. Augustine School

By Dan McGrath

There are five Catholic high schools serving an all-minority population in the United States.

Leo is one of them, and it has partnerships with two others: St. Benedict’s Prep, in Newark, N.J., and St. Augustine School in New Orleans, La.

A three-person contingent from St. Augustine’s, including President Aulston Taylor, visited Leo on Thursday, Sept. 15. Principal Shaka Rawls and a Leo group will make a return visit to New Orleans next month.

Accompanied by Administrative Aide Aliska Mercadal and attorney Derek Mercadal, President Taylor, a former two-sport athlete at St. Augustine, shared his personal story with a Leo student assembly.

After graduating from Texas Southern University, where he played varsity baseball, President Taylor landed a job in sales and marketing with ESPN. That led to an opportunity with the BET Network and a move to New York, where he earned a master’s degree in integrated marketing from New York University. That led in turn to a job with Viacom.

“I was making good money and by most measures I was successful, but I came to realize that what I was doing was not my passion,” he said.

The opportunity to come “home” to St. Augustine was one he couldn’t pass up, even though it entailed a substantial pay cut.

After two-plus years as the school’s chief development officer, President Taylor moved into his current role in 2021. Like Leo, St. Augustine is primarily dependent on outside funding for its operational budget. Like Leo, it boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate among its seniors.

“And, like Principal Rawls, I realized that my passion is helping young men realize their full potential, often in the face of adversity,” he told an assembly of Leo students.

“And that’s my advice to the young men in this room: Identify what it is that you’re passionate about in life and pursue it. It’s very hard to be denied if you’re passionate.”

Rally Held for the Invest in Kids Act

By Dan McGrath

It wasn’t their intention, but the Leo Lions stole the show at a recent pep rally. 

The rally in question was held at St. Sabina on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Its purpose was to call attention to the danger of the Invest in Kids Act being legislated out of existence. The Invest in Kids Act is responsible for tax credit scholarships, which afford Illinois youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to attend private schools, including Leo, on full or partial scholarships.

More than 30 Leo students receive tax credit scholarship assistance.

Funding for the program comes from donations to various scholarship-granting organizations, including the Big Shoulders Fund and Empower Illinois. Donors receive a credit of up to 75 percent on their State of Illinois income tax. Enacted in 2017, the Invest in Kids act is due to expire on Jan. 1, 2024 unless the legislature extends it.

Opponents of the measure say it favors private schools by funneling money away from public schools that are in desperate need of consistent funding. 

 About a dozen schools that are recipients of tax credit scholarship dollars took part in the rally, which was sponsored by Big Shoulders, the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools and Empower Illinois. It bore a distinct Leo imprint.

The world-renowned Leo Choir, now 20-plus voices strong, opened by singing the Star Spangled Banner and two additional songs.

Leo Principal Shaka Rawls served as MC and delivered opening remarks, noting that the opportunity to attend the high school of his choice–Leo–started him on his path toward a career as an educator.   

Seniors Zion Cornell-Strickland and Theauntae Jones and freshman Ian White-Holmes offered personal accounts of how the tax-credit scholarship has made it possible for them to attend Leo and receive the benefits of a Leo education in the safe, nurturing learning environment Leo offers. “I never saw my mother happier than when she was notified we got the scholarship,” Jones said. “It meant that I could continue at Leo. It’s the best place for me.”

Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina’s senior pastor, delivered the keynote speech and said allowing the scholarship program to expire would be another slap at the poor and the disadvantaged.

“Especially people of color,” Father Pfleger said. “They’re entitled to a quality education at the school that best fits their needs.

“The legislators need to take the politics out of it and do the right thing.”

Lions Defeated by Marmion

By Dan McGrath

Perhaps it was overconfidence born of a 2-0 start to the season. 

More likely it was a superior football team, a tough, quick, skilled Marmion Academy football team that probably didn’t need much assistance from visiting Leo. 

But four gift-wrapped touchdowns helped the Cadets (2-1) pile up 42 points and celebrate the grand opening of Fichtel Field at Ragoli Stadium with a 42-14 thumping of the Lions (2-1) in a Catholic League crossover game at Marmion on Friday, Sept. 8. 

The 28-point loss wasn’t the worst of it for Leo. Quarterback Marshawn Durr left the field on a stretcher after taking a big hit while being dropped for a 14-yard loss in the third quarter. He was taken to Mercy Hospital in Aurora and released after being diagnosed with a concussion. Durr’s playing status for the rest of the season is uncertain. 

Regole Stadium is a first-rate facility with a field-turf playing surface, an all-weather track, brand new grandstands and a spacious press box. And the Cadets looked like a first-rate tenant without having to work too hard as Leo lost a fumble, had two punts blocked and let a snap sail into the end zone, each miscue leaving Marmion with a ridiculously short field. 

All four were converted into touchdowns. 

The Cadets’ longest drive was the evening’s first—they covered 45 yards in six plays before clever quarterback Jake Sullivan scored the first of his two running touchdowns from a yard out. 

Leo matched that score when Durr found tight end Joshua Burke for a 55-yard TD. 

Then the mistakes came, in agonizing succession, and it was 42-6 before Leo’s Javon Logan erased some frustration and demonstrated admirable grit by breaking an 80-yard touchdown run in the final period. 

Sullivan had his way with the Lion defense, completing seven of eight passes for 91 yards and touchdowns of nine yards to Bryan Scales and eight to Jack Lesher. 

Lesher also scored on an eight-yard run. Sullivan’s TD runs covered one and 12 yards; the Lions appeared to have him cornered on the latter, but he slipped several tackle attempts and scooted into the end zone. 

Durr, running for his life all night, was 4-for-11 for 67 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Logan’s 110 yards came on 11 carries. 

The Lions have a week to regroup before facing DePaul Prep (1-2) on the road next Friday … almost assuredly without Durr. 

Lions Take Care of Walther Christian

By Dan McGrath

Leo has been “running clocked” often enough in the last few years that the Lions might be excused for savoring the experience of being on the other side.

But a 49-2 thumping of Walther Christian Academy in Melrose Park on Friday, in which a full three quarters were played with the clock moving after Leo seized a 42-0 first-period lead, was more about declining participation than dominant play.

The host Broncos barely had 20 kids in uniform, and according to the program, seven of them were freshmen. They were totally overmatched against a Catholic League competitor that has hardly been a powerhouse, and according to a member of the chain gang who has a son on the team, there is sentiment within the school community to drop football and embrace soccer. 

Too late to avoid this spanking. 

“Just try to play everybody and not get anybody hurt,” Coach Marques Stevenson said after the Lions improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2013.

Indeed, Leo subs were in the game from the second quarter on. By then sophomore Jaivon Dale had scored on a 64-yard punt return and an 86-yard run; junior Marshawn Durr had scored on 16- and 44-yard runs, sophomore Chase Jordan had brought an interception back 66 yards; sophomore Camren Collins turned a kick that Walther failed to cover into a touchdown … you get the idea. Various stretches of the game resembled a walkthrough.

But no more. The Lions are back on the road next week, traveling to Aurora to face Marmion Academy, a far more credible opponent with a 1-1 record after losing to Maine West 14-13 and drilling Curie 40-0 in nonconference play.

Leo has yet to beat the Cadets since the Catholic League-East Suburban Catholic Conference merger turned them into semi-regular opponents in 2019.  Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Marmion’s Fichtel Field.

Hail Mary! Lions Start Football Season with a Bang!

By Dan McGrath

OK, Doc, what else you got?

Dr. Marques Stevenson’s debut as Leo High School’s football coach was a resounding success—a 20-19 victory over Bishop McNamara at St  Rita’s Doyle Field on Friday, August 25.

But “resounding success” is underselling it. The win featured as dramatic a finish as any in which the Lions have been involved in their 97-year history.

On the last play of the game, with Leo trailing 19-14, sophomore quarterback Marshawn Durr lofted a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone from the Bishop Mac 46-yard line. A rugby scrum ensued as the ball came down, and when it landed in senior tight end Joshua Burke’s eager hands, Leo had a stunningly pleasing one-point victory.

But Durr-to-Burke was only part of the story.

With 18 seconds left, Bishop Mac was trailing 14-13. A stagnant offense faced a hopeless looking third-and-10 at its own 11-yard line when Coach Bob Kelly—Stevenson’s former colleague on the staff at St. Laurence—dipped into his trick bag. Quarterback Karter Krutsinger found wideout Coen Dernak on a short out route. Dernak pitched the ball back to tailback Jaydon Wright, and the 220-pound Minnesota recruit had nothing to but clear sailing in front of him as he completed an 89-yard jaunt to the go-ahead touchdown, on the
old hook-and-ladder play.

There’s more.

Bishop Mac botched the PAT kick, so the lead was five points instead of six.

But it looked safe when Leo—out of timeouts—could only return the kickoff to its 33-yard line and Durr misfired on a first-down pass.

On what looked to be the last play of the game, Durr was shoved out of bounds after scrambling 16 yards to the 49.

And there’s still more.

Bishop Mac was called for a hands-to-the-face violation on Durr’s run. It’s in the rules that a game can’t end on a defensive penalty, so the Lions got an untimed down …

… on which Durr found Burke, and the pro-Leo crowd went bonkers.

Got all that?

“This is all about the fighting spirit of Leo,” Stevenson said, his voice growing hoarse as he accepted congratulations from well-wishers.

Burke, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, is undoubtedly Leo’s top college prospect. In addition to catching two passes for 71 yards, he blocked like a demon and made tackles all over the field from his linebacker position.

“I told Josh before the game that if you want to be ‘the Man,’ go out there between the lines and do it, and he did it,” Stevenson said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. We believed in each other and we got it done.”

Durr’s turnover-free debut as varsity quarterback was nearly as impressive as Stevenson’s: He completed seven of 10 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, a 39-yarder to Javon Logan and the game-winner to Burke.

Logan, before leaving with a shoulder-injury, ran for 80 yards on 15 carries and scored on a 10-yard run.

The effort was impressive and successful, but not without blemishes: twice the Lions lost the ball on muffed punts and they were penalized 11 times for 90 yards.

But a win is a win.

“This,” Stevenson said, “is for the Leo  Brotherhood.”

Our Leo Boys Visit The Field of Dreams

The score was inconsequential—a 2-2 tie. 

The memories, though, were indelible for the Leo High School baseball team and players from four other schools in State Senator Willie Preston’s 16th legislative district. 

They traveled to the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa, on Sunday, August 14 to participate in the first Senator Willie Preston All-Star Game. They took in all the sites that made the 1988 Kevin Costner/Amy Madigan/James Earl Jones film such an enduring and endearing treasure, a classic blend of baseball’s ageless charm and a nostalgic yearning for simpler times. 

To make a great experience even better, Leo Lions assigned to the Blue and Gray teams were among the most impactful players on the museum-piece field. Sophomore Derrick Davis delivered a two-run single to stake the Gray team to an early 2-0 lead. Senior Lalo Santana’s two-run double pulled the Blue team even in the sixth. 

A walk, a hit batsman and a throwing error put runners at second and third with no outs for the Grays in the bottom of the seventh, but Lindblom senior Xavier Arroyo struck out the side to preserve the 2-2 tie. 

“What an incredible day for our boys,” said Leo Principal Shaka Rawls, who joined players, coaches, parents and fellow administrators in a 30-person Leo party for the 3 1/2-hour bus trip. “This is an experience none of us will ever forget. We’re grateful to Senator Preston for including us.” 

The two-story farmhouse in which Costner’s Ray Kinsella lived with his family is preserved on the site intact, as is the cornfield which Kinsella converted into a baseball field at the behest of an ethereal mystery voice. You could almost see Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and his cronies joyfully emerging from the cornstalks to fulfill the voice’s promise that “if you build it, he will come” … as well as the heart-wrenching Archie “Moonlight” Graham scene. 

James Earl Jones, an unlikely Costner co-conspirator as reclusive writer Terence Mann, delivers the film’s signature monologue when he assures Kinsella that he’s on to something.

“This field, this game, it’s part of our past,” Mann says “It reminds us of all that was good and can be good again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will definitely come.” 

Terence Mann’s prediction has definitely come true. More than 350 teams have played on the Field of Dreams field this year alone, and the complex hosts more than 65,000 visitors during its official operating season from April to November. 

The major league field on which the White Sox beat the Yankees in 2021 and the Cubs beat the Reds a year later is being converted into a permanent facility. Construction is under way on a nine-field complex for youth baseball and softball tournaments.  

More than 50 baseball Hall of Famers have taken part in events at the site. White Sox great Frank Thomas is among the investors. 

If you build it, they will come all right. And  they’ll keep coming. 

2023 Football Preview

The Leo Community is understandably eager for the debut of the Marques Stevenson Era, which will take place on Friday, August 25 when Leo’s Lions face Bishop McNamara in a nonconference football season opener at St. Rita’s Cronin Field. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Stevenson has taken over as head varsity football coach for Mike Holmes, whose name became synonymous with Leo football over a 30-year association that featured a standout playing career, service as an assistant coach and two terms as head coach, highlighted by an appearance in the IHSA Class 1-A state playoff semifinals in 2013. 

But there is still a Holmes connection to the program: Mike’s son Aamir, a Lawless Award-winning quarterback for the Lions in 2016, is on Stevenson’s staff as varsity quarterbacks coach and frosh-soph offensive coordinator.

Stevenson, a U.S. Navy veteran who played at Culver Stockton College in Missouri, comes to Leo from St. Laurence, where he served as varsity defensive coordinator and frosh-soph head coach. He also worked as an assistant at St. Joe’s until the Westchester school closed its doors, and at St. Francis in Wheaton.

The in-school reaction to Coach Stevenson has been strong: More than 70 young Lions have been involved in summer drills at the frosh-soph and varsity levels. Greater numbers should help address the depth issue that arose in recent years when injuries occurred. 

Stevenson has emphasized conditioning since his first day on the job, when he concluded a meeting with returning players by distributing an off-season workout plan which they were to follow. He also has the players more mindful of proper diet and nutrition.  

 Aamir Holmes  has been working closely with sophomore Marshawn Durr, who will open the season as the Lions’ starting quarterback. “He’s not going to fling it 60 yards down the field, but he can make the throws he has to make, he sees the field and he really works at getting better,”  Holmes said.

Junior Javon Logan, who led the Lions in rushing as a sophomore, is back to anchor the running game, with help from sophomore track star Chase Jordan. Kevin Jackson, who caught nine touchdown passes last  season, will be difficult to replace in the passing game, but junior basketball player Neil Anderson has opened some eyes as a wide receiver and junior Gavin Donald can make things happen after he catches the ball.

Tackle Aman Swain, linebacker Joshua Burke and cornerback Lawrence Lee bring savvy and experience to the Lions’ defense.

“I’m excited,” Stevenson said. “The kids have been working hard and they’ve bought into how we want to play. We’re very mindful of the history and traditions involved with Leo football, and we want to make some history of our own, starting this year. This is a great opportunity.”   

The schedule:

Friday, August 25—Bishop Mac,* 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 1–at Walther Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 8—at Marmion Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15—at DePaul Prep, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23—St. Laurence*, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 30—De La Salle*, 3 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6—at Joliet Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14—Wheaton St. Francis*, 5 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 19—at Marian Catholic, 7:30 p.m. 

*=home game at St. Rita’s Cronin Field, 78th and Western

Leo Opening Day 2023

By Dan McGrath

The largest freshman class to enroll at Leo High School in more than 20 years got a sense of what a special place Leo is when they showed up for Opening Day on Thursday, August 10.

More than 50 Leo alums ranging from the Class of 1963 to the Class of 2023 were on hand to salute 86 newcomers, as well as some 150 “returning veterans,” greeting them in the courtyard with “Welcome to the Leo Brotherhood” as they arrived for the first day of class as Lee begins its 98th year of service at the corner of 79th and Sangamon.

Office of Catholic Schools Superintendent Greg Richmond, Sixth Ward Alderman William Hall and a large contingent of our friends from the Big Shoulders Fund and the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp. also joined the welcoming party. A drumline from GADC provided energetic background music. TV crews from NBC-5 and CBS-2 Chicago filed stories for their afternoon news programs.

The weather cooperated—it was a cool, clear morning, almost too nice a day to be in school, but an ideal day to be outside celebrating Leo.

“There’s no better way to kick off a school year,” Principal Shaka Rawls said amidst the festivities.

The Opening Day celebration arrived one year after Principal Rawls, so this was our seventh. Mr. Rawls conceived it as a means of connecting the generations of Leo Men, as well as reminding the young Lions that by enrolling at Leo, they’re becoming part of something special.

“Alumni support and involvement is a big reason why we’re so special,” Mr. Rawls added, thanking the alums for their participation. “It’s important for the young guys to see that the day they arrive.”

After the ceremony the students assembled in the auditorium, where Superintendent Richmond spoke to them about upholding Leo’s traditions and Principal Rawls outlined expectations. Admissions Director Kevin McNair was cited for the energy and effort he put into assembling such a robust freshman class.

As the Young Lions headed off to class, the alums and other guests moved to the cafeteria for coffee, juice and pastries served by the Leo Parents Club.

“This is the largest group of kids we’ve had in the building since I’ve been here, by a lot,” said Leo President Dan McGrath, who is beginning his 14th year. “What it means is we’re set up to have another great year.”