Inexperience, injuries and a schedule that featured five state playoff qualifiers could be cited as factors in the Leo Lions football team managing a 3-6 record this season.
But they closed on a strong note, rallying to beat DePaul Prep 18-12 in the season finale at Lane Tech Stadium, halting a five-game losing streak.
And there were other bright spots, most notably senior quarterback Aamir Holmes winning the Tony Lawless Award as Most Valuable Player of the Chicago Catholic League Red Division.
Holmes was joined on the All-Conference team by his favorite target, wide receiver David Moore, as well as defensive backs Rodney White and Marquell Griffin, linebacker John Harris and defensive linemen Kenny Taggart and Gabrell Spruill. Griffin, Harris, Taggart and Spruill are juniors, giving the Lions a strong nucleus to build around next season.
The Lawless Award runs in the Holmes family. Aamir’s dad, Leo head coach Mike Holmes, has won it three times as Red Division Coach of the Year. And he was runner-up for the award as a standout player for Leo in 1975.
Despite missing one full game and parts of two others with injuries, Holmes threw for more than 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. A groin injury to standout running back Sterling Smith left the Lions more dependent on the passing game than they intended to be, and Holmes found himself with limited targets after receivers Dejon Harris (ankle) and Kittreal Stokes (shoulder) were hurt.
That put a bigger burden on the speedy Moore, who responded with 40 catches for 823 yards and nine touchdowns, including a 51-yarder in the DePaul Prep game. Sophomore Shawn Langworthy also scored on a 12-yard run as the Lions and the Rams battled to a 12-12 tie after three quarters. Midway through the fourth, Holmes found tight end Ronald Nelson for an 11-yard TD, giving Leo an 18-12 lead, and the defense preserved it.
Leo might have sneaked into either the state or the Prep Bowl playoffs with a 4-5 record owing to the strength of its schedule, but a 40-30 loss to St. Joe’s in Week 8 dashed those hopes. St. Joe’s joined Leo opponents Nazareth, Fenwick, St. Laurence and Loyola as state playoff teams this season.
“I can’t say the season went the way we wanted it to, but the kids never stopped battling and get to go out with a win, which is a tribute to their character,” Coach Mike Holmes said. “We got good leadership from our seniors, and we’ve got the nucleus of a good team coming back. “I’m optimistic about the future.”