A huge ‘leep’ for Fairland All-Ohio Football standout

Published Friday March 3, 2023 2:51 am

Fairland Dragons All-Ohio soccer star Steeler Leep signed a letter of intent to play for Ohio Northern University. The signing ceremony was attended by: Seated left to right, an empty chair wearing a Fairland hat honoring Steeler’s late father, Rusty Leep, Steeler Leep, mother Shawna Leep, and sister Holli Leep. (Tim Gearhart sports photo for The Ironton Tribune)

By Jim Walker

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PROCTORVILLE — Steeler Leep said he could describe his entire recruiting process in one word: “hustle.”

But the Fairland Dragons senior football star probably felt more like he was on an emotional roller coaster that ended Thursday when he signed a national letter of intent to play for Northwood University Timberwolves in Midland, Michigan.

Steeler Leep

The Fairland multisport talent originally contacted Gannon University’s NCAA Division 2 program and scheduled an official visit, and it seemed like this would be his landing pad.

“I went up there and loved it,” Leep said. “I realized that because of my height and weight, I’m not going into the NFL. So when I made my decision I had to focus on what really matters and that was my future. Northwood offered me the best opportunity to be successful in the future.

“I’ve done my research, I’m going up and I like it and I’m going to commit. Some unfortunate things happened and I couldn’t get up until the last days of January. (Head Coach Dusty Buerer) called me three days before my official visit and said, “Hey, I’m sorry, we’re out of sports money.”

Leep had already told other schools he had made his decision, but now he had to reverse the field and contact the same programs in hopes of getting an offer.

“It definitely tested my manhood to go back to the coaches I said ‘no’ to. That was a frantic process to make more visits to West Virginia Wesleyan, Wash, Findlay. I enjoyed all of these places. But eight days after my birthday[Gannon]called me back and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got more money for you,’ and I said, ‘I’m in, don’t give the money away,'” said Leep, whose birthday is 28. January.

But then Gannon also reversed the field.

A coach of Gannon called the Monday before signing day on Wednesday February 1 and apologized because “we miscalculated. We have no money for you.”

Leep discussed the situation with his mother, Shawna, and then with his youth minister, Dave Trevathan, who simply said, “Trust God. He has a plan for you.”

And then the plan began to unfold.

Leep attended Northwood University, a private school with over 2,100 students.

“I really loved it,” said Leep, who then turned to Ironton football coach Trevon Pendleton for help.

“I reached out to Coach Pendleton and said, ‘Hey Coach, I know you have a lot of connections. I have so much respect for you and your program and how you market your players.’ He really helped me a lot. His brother (Jarred) played college ball with the Northwood coach and he introduced me to them and I loved it up there.”

Northwood plays in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) but was formerly part of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is considered the premier league in the NCAA Division 2.

“They used to play Ferris State and Grand Valley State. All these powerhouses and they were the only private school in this conference. They’re automatically at a disadvantage because they’re the only private school in this league,” Leep said.

“By moving from GLIAC to G-MAC, they have the best facilities. They have an amazing weight room and all these things that can make me the best player I can be.”

And that’s saying something considering Leep is already a pretty good player.

Leep had 33 carries for 466 yards and four scores, caught 23 passes for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns, had 73 tackles on defense with four interceptions and 11 pass breakups.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound leep played running back, wide receiver and defensive back and earned First Team Southeast All-District honors in Division 5. He was selected as a wide receiver as a Third Team All-Ohio.

“Most of my offers have been to play defensively. I love the defensive back. I love getting up and attacking people. I like to cover. But they actually offered me as an athlete,” Leep said of Northwood. “They indicated to start me on the offensive side of the ball when running back. They said they didn’t sign very many running backs in that class.

“I told them I don’t care what position I play in. I just want to go to the field. I love the football game so much. If I get an opportunity to play, if that’s special teams, hey, if you put me on offense, I don’t care. I love winning football games and I love playing football.”

A great honor is OhioThe Wendy’s Heisman High School symbolizes great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work. State winners will receive a $1,000 tuition towards the college they attend.

“It was wonderful. Of course, to be eligible for the award you have to have a high GPA and some good stats on the field,” Leep said. “I won my school. I had to write five essays that showed how I was a leader on and off the field.”

Leep is also President of the Student Council and Treasurer of the BETA Club.

“I was in class and my guidance counselor said, ‘Steeler, come here, please.’ I think I’m in trouble. She said you’re the first person in our school to win the High School Heisman. I said, ‘What do you mean? Somebody wins one every year.’ She said no. You’re the only boy they picked out of Ohio.” It’s definitely an honor. And it’s not me. It’s my coaches, my teachers, my mother, my father. I just sat back and listened to those who know more than you.”

Football has always been a part of not only Steeler’s life but his family as well.

“It’s three words. I love football. I live for it,” Leep said.

Steeler’s great-uncle, JD Leep, threw the first touchdown pass to Steeler’s grandfather, Gary Leep, for the first touchdown at current Fairland football field.

“The Leep surname has always been a part of Fairland,” Steeler said.

Steeler’s father, Rusty, was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He actually wanted to name his son Hunter, but Mom said there was already a Hunter in the family and she suggested Steeler.

“He was surprised and said, ‘Really?’ We weren’t so sure, so we slept on it and they went for it,” Shawna Leep said. “I wasn’t a Steelers fan, but I became one.”

Leep has other interests besides football. He said he doesn’t play any instruments, but he’s a singer.

“I love singing country music,” he said. “Chris Stapleton is my favorite. Tennessee Whiskey is my favorite song of his.

“My father loved old music. So he had Sirius XM and I grew up 90’s on nine and 80’s on eight. I could tell you almost every word of almost every ’80s song, almost every ’90s song, because we drove 16 hours to Disney World, 16 hours back, straight 80s, straight 90s. We have done so many trips. It’s something I will always remember.”

Rusty Leep died in January 2022 after battling cancer for eight years.

“He fought every day. He mowed the grass. He would go to work. He never felt sorry for himself,” Steeler said. “He is my inspiration for everything I do. If there’s that one more rep I don’t want to do, I think my dad didn’t want to get up and do anything with his chemopump. I thought, ‘Stop being so lazy and fast and do this rep.’ My father was a big advocate of that. don’t be soft Don’t be a wimp. He was one of those guys who never let you see them cry. I was in eighth grade playing at Raceland and I actually broke my femur. The first words out of my father’s mouth weren’t, “Are you alright, son?” It was, “Rub some dirt on it.” I think that’s something that’s needed.”

Leep plans to study marketing.

“They offer a fantastic program. It’s an accelerated program where I can get my master’s in four years,” Leep said

“I have already carried over one year of credits from courses I took at (Ohio University Southern). Even putting on a red shirt just prolongs that Masters and I have a lighter workload than most people due to the hard work I put in through high school.”

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